THERMAL, Calif. -- The federal No Child Left Behind Act threatens costly penalties for schools deemed failing to meet academic standards. In response, some educators said they expect a series of lawsuits aimed at avoiding the sanctions.
Since President Bush signed the sweeping education reforms in 2002, the law has drawn criticism from educators debating its strict performance and test requirements. The act requires all students to be proficient in reading, writing, and math by 2014.
Parents of children in some failing schools can demand transfers to better campuses. Over the next four years, schools must offer tutoring services, administrators, teachers can be fired, states can take over districts, and federal funds can be withheld.
Coachella Valley Unified School District, which includes Oasis Elementary School, could be among the nation's first to challenge the law. The school board is considering suing federal and state governments, asserting the district is being held to unreachable goals.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, students at more than 27,500 schools nationwide, almost 31 percent of all US public schools, are failing at math and reading.
Last December, Reading School District in Pennsylvania sued over its low performance rating, saying its Spanish-speaking students could not read the tests. About two-thirds of the district's 16,000 students are Hispanic; 15 percent have limited English proficiency.
But judges ruled that testing in a student's native language is not mandatory, required only ''to the extent that it is practicable to do so." The district plans to appeal.
''It's a wonderful title, No Child Left Behind. Who could ever disagree with that?" said Richard Guida, a lawyer for the Reading district. ''But kids are all different and, unfortunately, this calls for a cookie-cutter approach to education that doesn't take difference into account. Some kids will be left behind."
At Oasis Elementary, more than 90 percent of the school's students are Hispanic and come from families of migrant workers surviving on less than $10,000 a year, the principal said. They are taught in English, still a foreign language for many.
There are plans to create a Spanish-language test, but development won't begin until at least 2006, said Linda Lownes, a consultant for the state Education Department. In California, students must take standardized tests in English.
Foch Pensis, Coachella Valley district superintendent, plans to seek allies in a class-action lawsuit if legislators do not ease the burden for schools with large numbers of English-language learners. Education Department officials, however, say the No Child Left Behind Act gives considerable leeway to such districts.