Lau v. Nichols
This 1974 Supreme Court case was brought forward by Chinese American students in the San Francisco Unified School District. Despite their lack of English proficiency, these students were placed in mainstream classrooms and left to "sink or swim".
As a result of this case, the Lau Remedies were created, which essentially require districts to implement bilingual education programs for ESL students.
Furthermore, effects of the Lau case were codified into federal law through the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA); section 1703(f) of this act declares:
No state shall deny educational opportunities to an individual on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin by (f) the failure of an educational agency to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students in its instructional programs.
Castañeda v. Pickard
This 1981 case originated in Texas, charging the Raymondville Independent School District with failing to address the needs of ESL students as mandated by the EEOA (reference above).
As a result of this case, a three-pronged test was enacted to help determine whether schools were adequately addressing the needs of ESL students as required by the EEOA.
The Castañeda standard mandates that programs for language-minority students must be (1) based on a sound educational theory, (2) implemented effectively with sufficient resources and personnel, and (3) evaluated to determine whether they are effective in helping students overcome language barriers (Del Valle, 2003).
Plyler v. Doe
This 1982 Supreme Court case examined the actions of a Texas school district, in their following of a statute which allowed exclusion of undocumented students completely from receiving an education. establishes that undocumented children have the right to attend free public school.
The Supreme Court declared this statute as unconstitutional and in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The court said:
By denying these children a basic education we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation.