Two Karen students and their parents have sued the St. Paul school district over what they say are inadequate services for students learning English.
Mary Jane Sommerville and George Thawmoo say the district inappropriately placed their high-school-aged children Lor Ler Kaw and Lor Ler Hok Koh in classes alongside students proficient in English.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court Friday.
Lor Ler Kaw and Lor Ler Hok Koh are Karen refugees who resettled in the U.S. in 2012, according to the suit, and they did not know English at the time.
The complaint says both students fell behind after they were placed in so-called "mainstream" classes at Como Park Senior High School in 2014. The students did not understand the material, and their grades suffered.
The suit alleges that St. Paul's policies hurt other English learners, too. It demands that the district stop so-called mainstreaming of English learners until students are individually deemed ready.
"We filed this class action lawsuit ... to seek relief for the many refugee and immigrant families in our community who are facing discrimination," Thawmoo said in a statement.
The suit also seeks damages for the plaintiffs in an unspecified amount and demands other changes to the district's English language learner program.
The school district started moving more high school English learners into regular classes during the 2013-14 school year. A chart on the St. Paul schools website says students with mid-level English skills — level 2.5 or 3 on a six-level scale — can be placed in regular classes co-taught with an English language teacher.
The move caused tensions with critics who said students weren't ready.
A recent state Education Department audit of St. Paul's English learner program found problems in curriculum and failure to communicate fully with parents.
The lawsuit also claims the St. Paul district delayed evaluating English learners for special education and failed to provide services to plaintiff Lor Ler Hok Koh.
The city of St. Paul found probable cause in May that the district had discriminated against Lor Ler Hok Koh by failing to offer adequate regular education and evaluation for special education services.
A school district spokesperson said the district does not comment on pending litigation.