The U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ) today released joint guidance reminding states, school districts and schools of their obligations under federal law to ensure that students who are English learners have equal access to a high-quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential.
Almost five million students in the U.S. are English learners, making up about nine percent of all public school students. This is the first time that a single piece of guidance has addressed the array of federal laws that govern schools’ obligations to English learners. The guidance recognizes the recent milestone 40th anniversaries of Lau v. Nichols and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), as well as the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
MUST SCHOOLS IDENTIFY AND ASSESS POTENTIAL ENGLISH LEARNER STUDENTS?
Yes. School districts must have procedures in place to identify potential EL students in an accurate and timely manner. School districts must then determine if potential EL students are in fact EL through a valid and reliable test that assesses English language proficiency in speaking, listening, reading and writing.
WHAT LANGUAGE ASSISTANCE MUST SCHOOLS PROVIDE TO ENGLISH LEARNER STUDENTS?
EL students are entitled to appropriate language services to become proficient in English and to participate equally in the standard instructional program within a reasonable period of time, as well as extracurricular programs and activities. EL students are entitled to EL programs with sufficient resources and districts must have qualified EL teachers, staff, and administrators to effectively implement their EL program. Districts must also monitor the progress of EL students, evaluate the effectiveness of their EL programs, and modify their programs in a timely manner when needed.
WHAT STEPS MUST SCHOOL DISTRICTS TAKE TO PROVIDE EFFECTIVE LANGUAGE ASSISTANCE TO LIMITED ENGLISH PROFICIENT PARENTS?
Districts must provide effective language assistance to limited English proficient parents, such as offering translated materials or a language interpreter. It is not sufficient for the staff merely to be bilingual. Districts should ensure that interpreters and translators have knowledge in both languages, and are trained in the role of an interpreter and translator—including the ethics of serving as one—and the need to maintain confidentiality.
WHAT DO I DO IF I BELIEVE A SCHOOL IS NOT COMPLYING WITH THESE REQUIREMENTS?
- You may visit the website of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights or call (800) 421-3481.
- You may visit the website of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division or call (877) 292-3804.
- You can learn how to file a complaint via the webpages for the Department of Education and the Department of Justice.