Lau v. Nichols


When: 1971 - 1974

Where: San Francisco, CA

Who: Chinese Americans

Issue: Bi-lingual Education

Law: 14th Amendment

California Code: 72-6520

Decision: Unanimous in favor of Lau (9 in favor, 0 against)

"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 education.

"Basic English skills are at the very core of what these public schools teach. Imposition of a requirement that, before a child can effectively participate in the educational program, he must already have acquired those basic skills is to make a mockery of public education. We know that those who do not understand English are certain to find their classroom experiences wholly incomprehensible and in no way meaningful."

Summary of the Case

In San Francisco, CA, 1971, the California school system was integrated as a result of a federal court decree. Approximately 2,800 Chinese students in the school system did not speak English. 1,000 of these students received supplemental courses in English, and 1,800 did not receive the supplemental courses. The lawsuit started from the non-English-speaking Chinese students who did not receive the additional instruction, and therefore not getting equal educational opportunities, and being denied their Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court found that the California Education Code required that the English language was the basic language of instruction in all schools, and that it was required that all students master English in school. In addition, the Code required full time education for children between six and sixteen, and that no student who did not reach the standards of proficiency in English would not be allowed to graduate in twelfth grade and receive a diploma. In the opinion of the Supreme Court, these state imposed standards did not provide the equality of treatment simply because all students were provided with equal facilities, books, teachers, and curriculum.

The Supreme Court did not validate the Equal Protection Clause argument of petitioners, but relied on Section 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.  The San Francisco 

Unified School District received substantial federal financial assistance, and based on guidelines imposed upon recipients of such funding, school systems must assure that students of a particular race, color, or national origin are not denied the same opportunities to obtain an education generally obtained by other students in the same school system.  This guideline was further expanded in 1970 to include that students with language deficiencies were to be afforded the tools necessary to rectify the deficiency.

Discrimination among students on account of race or national origin that is prohibited includes "discrimination... in the availability or use of any academic... or other facilities of the grantee or other recipient." Discrimination is barred which has that effect even though no purposeful design is present: a recipient "may not...utilize criteria or methods of administration which have effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination" or have "the effect of defeating or substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the program as respect individuals of a particular race, color, or national origin."

"Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes, or results in racial discrimination."

 How it effects our classrooms:

Some teachers are not prepared to teach ELLs, and this Code effects that because now teachers have to take classes in order to learn how to be proficient in teaching second language acquisition. Now the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is used to see that the ELLs rights are being upheld in education legislation, such as "No Child Left Behind Act" and "Race To The Top", rather than cases being brought to the Federal Board.

The Code states that requiring a student to have acquired English skills in order to participate in education is a violation of the law.

No intent is required to show a Title VI violation. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This prohibits exclusion from participation, denial of benefits, or discrimination in any program receiving federal funding of any person on the basis of race, color, or national origins.

This case and other similar cases led to the adoption of the Equal Education Opportunities Act later in 1974. The Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA) prohibits the denial of equal educational opportunity based on race, color, sex, or national origin. This act disallows any form of segregation.

How to Implement it in the Classroom: 

Crafting a Lau Plan:

A Lau Plan is one equal access plan that protects ELLS. The plan describes what a school district will do:

  • To identify its ELLs

  • To design an effective program reflective of their needs

  • To employ appropriate English-as-a-second-language or bilingual personnel (or both)

  • To align the instruction of ELLs to state and local content standards

  • To provide ongoing authentic assessments to ascertain their growth in English language proficiency and in the comprehension of academic content


This free website was made using Yola.

No HTML skills required. Build your website in minutes.

Go to and sign up today!

Make a free website with Yola