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Michael Paulino

Community College of Southern Nevada

Court Case
February 22, 2016

Lau V. Nichols

Take a look at modern day San Francisco. It's a city alive with colorful and diverse

peoples. Many languages are spoken and it is home to to immigrants from all over the world.

Many of whom come from their native lands to make a better life for themselves and allow their

children to receive a formal education. And many of those immigrants do not know or speak

English as their primary language. The outcome of landmark supreme court case of Lau V.

Nichols 1974 has made the dream of an accessible public education by non-english speakers

possible not only in San Francisco but all over the United States.

Lau V. Nichols has it's roots in the Brown v. Board of Education Topeka supreme court

ruling which mandated an integration of schools and declared it unlawful for schools to be

segregated by race. The assimilation of all children under on educational roof was a long and

difficult process and school districts did not see real integration for years to come. Across the

country and fifteen years later in San Francisco, a federal court ruling required the integration of

foreign language students and non-white students into predominantly white, english-speaking

schools. This sounds great but one of the unintended side effects was that non-english

speaking students, who were learning in their native language and english in segregated

schools, were now tossed into english only classrooms and expected to learn at the same

speed of the english speaking students. A sort of "sink or swim" approach to teaching that was

clearly ineffective. The community that was hardest hit by this decision was the Chinese

community, who were a large part of the immigrant community in San Francisco.
The first attempt at correcting this was in 1971 with the case of Guey Hueng Lee V.

Johnson which was appealed to the 9th circuit court of appeals in the 1974 case Johnson V.

San Francisco Unified School District. The court ruled against the Chinese speaking community

stating the Brown case only refers to races and not languages. The argument was then taken to

the Supreme Court in the Lau V. Nichols case. By referencing section 601 of the Civil Rights

Act of 1964 along with the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court came to the conclusion that

excluding students due to language barriers was unlawful. Justice William Douglas of the

Supreme Court stated, "Under these state imposed standards there is no equality of treatment

merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers and curriculum; for

students who do not understand english are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful


The decision of Lau V. Nichols spurned the Lau Remedies which applied to all school

districts and functioned as de facto compliance standards. The Lau Remedies are a set of

procedures similar to an Individualized Education Program but geared towards bilingual learners

instead of children with disabilities. The first step is identifying and evaluating the language skills

of students whose language is not primarily English. After the students' English skills are

measured, the next step is figuring out what type of instruction would be appropriate. The Lau

Remedies come back into play to decide when the Limited English Proficient (LEP) students are

ready for mainstream monolingual classrooms. The fourth component is a supervision of the

educators to make sure they maintain the professional standards expected of them when

teaching language minority children.