TYLER, Texas—A federal judge ruled Monday that the state of Texas has discriminated against Hispanic students. He ordered a new plan providing equal education for all Spanish-speaking students be developed and put into effect within six years.
In a scathing 67-page opinion, U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice said that the defendants in the suit — the state of Texas and the Texas Education Agency — had subjected Mexican-Americans to years of discrimination “in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The judge ordered state officials to meet with attorneys for the plaintiffs — the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American GI Forum — by Jan. 29 to begin formulating a plan for submission to the court by March 2.
“These children have waited long enough to reap the benefits of an adequate education,” Justice wrote. “The more quickly the ethnic injustices of the past can be overcome, the sooner this nation can face, as one people, the challenges of the future.”
He ordered that the plan be “effected in phases over a six-year period” so the state would not have to bear an extreme financial burden in complying with the order.
Ruben Bonilla, national president of LULAC, said the ruling in the 10-year-old suit was a tremendous victory for Hispanic education — not only in Texas but across the United States.
Texas Assistant Attorney General John Fainter and TEA counsel David Ryan declined comment because they had not read the full ruling.
Justice said the current plan, providing bilingual education from kindergarten through grade three only in school districts with 20 or more students of limited English proficiency in a single grade, was “inadequate.”
He ruled that the additional cost of providing bilingual education for all students was no excuse for limiting the program.
“The tragic legacy of discrimination will not be swept away in the course of a day or a week or a single school year,” Justice wrote.
“But these children deserve, at the very least, an opportunity to achieve a productive and fulfilling place in American society. Unless they receive instruction in a language they can understand pending the time when they are able to make the transition to all-English classrooms, hundreds of thousands of Mexican-American children in Texas will remain educationally crippled for life, denied the equal opportunity which most Americans take for granted.”
Justice’s ruling was an extension of his Nov. 24, 1970 decision in a suit filed by the U.S. Justice Department ordering Texas to do away with nine all-black school districts.
LULAC and the American GI Forum, representng Spanish-speaking students, were allowed to intervene in the case on July 10, 1972. On June 3, 1975, they moved for relief on behalf of Mexican-American students, leading to Monday’s ruling.
Justice’s ruling noted that 44 percent of Mexican-American students in Texas suffer from severe reading retardation and that 47 percent of Mexican-American students do not finish high school, compared with only 15 percent of white students. He said only 16 percent of Mexican-Americans enter college compared to more than one-half of the Anglo high school graduates.
Justice noted the unemployment rate of Mexican-Americans is nearly twice that of non-minority adults, saying “this is only another manifestation of the underlying problem.”