Both the Northeast and Southwest independent school districts, along with the Texas Education Agency, have been named in a civil rights lawsuit alleging their English as a Second Language programs do not comply with a 1974 federal law.
"This lawsuit is about children not learning English," said David Hinojosa, southwest regional counsel for MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
He said the majority of secondary students at the heart of the lawsuit are not new immigrants.
"They've been lingering in these insufficient, deficient programs for several years," Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa said the issue goes back 40 years, when the Equal Educational Opportunity Act became federal law mandating schools teach English proficiency among students who primarily speak a foreign language.
He said Texas students had seen progress since then, yet more is needed.
"They have access to high quality bilingual education in lower grades, access to high quality dual language programs, but we're still talking 200,000 secondary students statewide," he said.
One out of six of students are English language learners, Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa said the "rollback" began in 2006 when on-site monitoring of ESL programs became desk audits.
He said MALDEF won the case on appeal in 2010, but the court gave the state time for monitoring to go into effect.
Hinojosa said four years later, MALDEF found "the same dismal results in our secondary schools."
He said other school districts could have been sued as well, however NEISD and SWISD parents had "a compelling case about the lack of educational opportunities."
Hinojosa said students known as ELL, English language learners, typically get less than hour of ESL instruction.
"You can't simply pull them out for one period a day and then submerge them back," Hinojosa said.
He said once they return to their normal classes, they lack the workbooks and computer software they need.
Hinojosa said ESL certified teachers also should undergo further training.
"They must develop techniques to ensure students are fully proficient in English to grasp the core knowledge of the subject being taught," Hinojosa said.
NEISD and SWISD report they have not yet seen the lawsuit.
However, Dr. Brian Gottardy, NEISD superintendent, said, "We are fully committed to equal educational opportunities for all students."
Dr. Lloyd Verstuyft, SWISD superintendent, echoed that statement.
He said, "We believe in the education of all students from all backgrounds, and we look forward to sharing our academic progress."