Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report: Puentes of New Orleans

If person A and person B are equals, and the same set of rules is presented to both, then if person A is allowed to choose which rules apply to him or her, logically, person B may do the same. Of course, in our society, individuals don’t get to pick and choose which rules apply. Nor do entities that receive federal funding, such as public schools. If they want the money, they have to play by the rules.

All of the rules.

Like any other state, Louisiana public schools do want the money. They receive a significant portion of their operating budgets from the federal government and, as such, they fall under the governance of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act—which precludes discrimination under “any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”—as well as a host of other federal statutes and rulings set forth to create a level playing field for all citizens of our fine country, including those whose native language is not English.

This knowledge is all relevant to the new role that has evolved for me at Puentes. When the original plan for me to start up a sustainable English as a Second Language (ESL) program fell through, it took a while but eventually an ideal use for my interest in ESL and my legal education revealed itself: ESL advocacy in the public education system. Myriad conference sessions and reams of research later, I am becoming more and more well versed in the law as it applies to English language learners in federally funded programs.

Did you know that if a public school has even a single limited English proficient student among its ranks said school is by law responsible for providing that child instruction to rectify the language deficiency? I bet you didn’t. And, naturally, the parents of children like these don’t either. But the schools that are just shuffling these children around, failing them, ignoring the disservice being done because to rectify it is an inconvenience? I’m pretty sure they do know. And it’s about time that someone—oh, maybe an interested and educated party like Puentes, for example—came along and reminded them that we know the civil rights of our constituents and will not allow them to be violated.

Any of them.

– Jan Jugran, AmeriCorps VISTA Visit Puentes New Orleans, to learn more about the outreach program and volunteer opportunities in your area.

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About Tulane VISTA

Notes from the field from the AmeriCorps VISTA team at Tulane University.

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