Lau vs Nichols

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by savvyjo
Last updated 7 years ago

Social Studies
American History

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Lau vs Nichols

Due to federal court decree in 1971 the school system in San Francisco, California was integrated.There was an estimate of 2,800 Chinese ancestry students in the San Francisco school system that could not speak English. Only 1,000 students received supplemental courses in English language.The remaining 1,800 did not receive the additional instruction and banded together and brought a class action suit that they were not being granted equal educational opportunities and denied the 14th amendment. The District Court denied and the Court of Appeals sided with the District. The court of Appeals reasoned that the students brought the advantages and disadvantages upon them selves and was separate from the school.The Supreme Court found that English was to be taught in all schools as a means to help them master English according to the California Education Code. The code also required full time education for children that were between the ages 6 and 16. Another statement on the code was any student who did not met the requirements in English were not able to graduate their senior year. The Supreme Court did not agree nor think that just because they were provided with equal materials meant that they were being treated equally.The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of appeals based off section 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The San Francisco School District then received federal financial funding to implement a school system that would not deny any student to receive a general education.

Why How

The parents of a non-English Chinese students that children were not receiving any additional help and thrown into all English classes against the San Francisco Unified School District, (Alan Nichols- President of the school board).

Due to the ruling in Lau vs Nichols the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed children a meaningful education that would benefit them without regards to their language backgrounds. These English language learners were no longer going to be left helpless with out any means of understanding or communication. It did not completely solve the issues that English language learners or students that English is not their first language may struggle with, but it is a step. Justice Douglas brought up a valid point that is "simple Justice" that everyone pays taxes regardless of what language they speak and this taxes and funds should be spent on all regardless of language or race. The "sink or swim" method does not work for all student each student is unique and due to this case they are given an opportunity to discover what works best for each student. This has a huge impact on ELLs and educators. Starting with the actual ELLs this can give the student that bit of hope that they need. For many students they do not know any English at all being thrown into an all English class can not be detrimental to the student. They will not be able to even understand and no matter the effort they put in they are set up to fail. This can be extremely discouraging to the student. It will not only be a negative effect on the student while they are in class it will also negatively effect their futures because it will put them at a further disadvantage not knowing the language and having no educational background. This now allows ELLs to be able to learn and to progress. They will be able to feel more comfortable in their environment and with the little bit of extra help will be able to grow. As an educator this allows you to make adjustments and to give extra help and alternative lessons for the student based on their individual needs and ability.

Where When

The court case took place in San Francisco and was decided January 21, 1974.


“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 education.”

Lau vs Nichols

What Happened


"Sink or Swim"


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