Collier County schools settles class action lawsuit. What it means for non-English-speaking students

Students sued the Collier County School District. The two sides just settled the class action lawsuit and it did not cost the district a dime.

Nehemy Antoine came to Naples from Haiti four years ago. He was just in time for highschool. “I was excited, you know?” he said. “I was going to get into a high school with friends and stuff like that and get access to playing soccer and basketball.”

But Antoine said Collier County Public Schools told him he could not go to Golden Gate High. “It’s not fair that they didn’t let me in,” he said. “They just said, ‘Go away.'” The reason was that Antoine did not speak English.

Antoine claims Collier County Schools pushed him to enroll in an adult English program at Lorenzo Institute. The English classes at the institute would not count toward his diploma. “You shouldn’t have to be with adults who are 25 or older than you,” Antoine said.

It turns out that Antoine was not alone. He and other students joined together to file a lawsuit. The Southern Poverty Law Center took the case and Attorney Gillian Gillers represented the students.

“We’re very delighted that our clients stood up for themselves and for hundreds of foreign-born English language learners,” Gillers said. “That said, that’s not right, that’s actually illegal.”

Gillers argued that Collier County Schools denied students opportunities available to others. “They’re not exposed to the rigorous high school curriculum or high school activities that you would be exposed to in a traditional high school setting,” she said.

Now, if Collier County Schools refuses a student to enroll because of limited English skills, the district must also make it clear that he or she can appeal. A Collier County Schools spokesman denied the original allegation. He said if students could not graduate by age 19, the district recommended non-traditional programs.

Antoine is proud of the precedent he may have set as part of the lawsuit. He does not want anyone to say to another person that he or she is not good enough and does not deserve the same opportunities as others. “I have siblings younger than me,” he said, “and I don’t want anything like that to happen to them or anybody.”

Reporter:Dannielle Garcia
Writer:Michael Mora
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