Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
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JEFFERSON , La. - An advocacy group is calling for a federal investigation of Jefferson Parish Public Schools.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said the district is failing to adequately educate students who speak English as a second language.

Francisco Pazo mentors Latino high school students in a college preparatory class at Tulane University.

The recent Bonnabel High School graduate believes many Spanish speaking students are ill prepared for higher education because their high schools are failing them.

'There have been a lot of students I got to know who dropped out of high school because they got put in the wrong class, they continued being held back, they were not being treated fairly, they were being neglected, and in general just couldn't fit in,' said Pazo.

Attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal complaint Wednesday, addressing similar issues.

The complaint centers on alleged inadequacies with classes in English as a Second Language, or ESL.

'What we've seen with at least a couple of our clients is that they were pulled out of the ESL program before they were even close to being fully English proficient,' said Jennifer Coco, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

According to Coco, some students who could not read and write in English were removed from ESL classes because they were able to speak English proficiently, in an apparent violation of state and federal standards.

The state mandates ESL students pass a test that shows they are fully proficient in speaking, writing, reading and listening in English before they can be removed from ESL classes, according to Coco.

Some students who took the test and performed at the lowest proficiency in reading and writing in English were removed anyway.

'When we don't ensure that they're able to read and write in English, it sets these students up for failure but I think it also sets up the community for failure because there is a group of community members who aren't able to participate and contribute,' said Coco.

The complaint also alleges there aren't enough ESL teachers in Jefferson Parish. At West Jefferson High School, there is one ESL teacher per 50 ESL students.

'They just don't have the staff available to even possibly implement the programs they put on paper,' said Coco.

A Latino advocacy group called Puentes launched the college prep class at Tulane, specifically designed for Latinos.

'We see that our youth are not well prepared, we see them fluent in English but not necessarily good at writing, we see these gaps,' said Jordan Shannon, Puentes policy-advocacy coordinator.

Those like Pazo hope to help close those gaps. He says the Jefferson Parish school system needs to do the same.

The documents filed Wednesday are an extension of a federal complaint filed last year, which alleged that non-English speaking parents had inadequate access to information in their native tongue.

The Department of Justice is actively investigating that complaint.

The Jefferson Parish Public School District says it does not comment on ongoing cases.

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