There are over 4.9 million students across the U.S. who identify as English language learners (Mitchell, 2020). Although schools can determine what programs and curriculum to provide students, regardless of documentation status (Plyler v. Doe, 1975), there are federal and district rights that ensure that all English language students have equal access to education.
“Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), public schools must ensure that EL students can participate meaningfully and equally in educational programs” (U.S. Department of Education, 2015).
ALL SCHOOL DISTRICTS MUST:
- Identify and assess all potential EL students – When a student is enrolling, school districts must use a home language survey to identify students who use any language other than English in their home, or who predominantly use any other language than English.
- Provide language assistance to EL students – Schools can determine what language assistance services they use. However, the programs must allow EL students to equally participate in non-EL coursework within a “reasonable period of time” (U.S. Department of Education, 2015, p. 1). School districts must evaluate EL programs over time to ensure that current and exited students are academically performing and meaningfully participating in the standard education program comparably to their never-EL peers.
- Provide staffing and support for EL programs – EL programs must have highly qualified teachers, support staff, administrators, and instructional materials.
- Provide meaningful access to all curricular and extracurricular programs – EL students must have access to all grade-level programs to ensure that they can move on to the next grade/graduate. EL students can participate in all programs include: PK3/PK4, Advanced Placement (AP) courses, International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, clubs, honor societies, career and technical education, and athletics programs.
- Avoid unnecessary segregation of EL students – Though some programs may require some EL students to be pulled out of their general classroom, “[s]chool districts generally may not segregate students on the basis of national origin or EL status” (U.S. Department of Education, 2015, p. 2).
- Evaluate EL students for Special Education and provide dual services – EL students must be evaluated for special education services in whatever language they are most proficient in. If they have a disability that requires services, they must be provided both language assistance and disability-related services (IEP/504 Plan). For more information on how to request an evaluation, check out our “Right to Know: Special Education” guide.
- Meet the needs of students who opt out of EL programs/services – If a parent/caregiver chooses to opt their student out of EL services, the school district must still monitor the student’s progress, provide them with educational programs, and offer EL services again if the student is struggling.
- Monitor the progress of EL students (current and exited) – School districts must administer English language proficiency (ELP) assessments to monitor the progress of students. Once they have exited an EL program, the school district must monitor their progress for a minimum of the next two years to ensure they are not struggling.
- Ensure meaningful communication with Limited English Proficient Parents (LEP) – Schools must communicate with parents/caregivers and provide them with materials in a language that they understand. Even if your student (or another student) is proficient in English, the school is required to provide LEP parents with translation and interpretation services.
According to the DC Language Access Act, all DC government agencies are obligated to “provide equal access and participation in public services, programs, and activities for residents of the District of Columbia who cannot speak, read, or write English” (Office of Human Rights, n.d.). If you live in DC, you have a right to the following services at no cost to you:
- Request and receive interpreter services – Interpreters can assist either in-person or via a telephone interpreter service.
- Request and receive vital documents in your chosen language
- Make a complaint – If you are denied services listed above by a DC government agency, please contact the Language Access Program at the DC Office of the Human Rights at (202) 727-4559 or ohr.dc.gov/page/language-access-public-complaint-form.