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U.S. Departments of Education and Justice Release Joint Guidance to Ensure English Learner Students Have Equal Access to High-Quality Education

Posted on 01/13/2015

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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 English learner students have equal access to a high-quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential.

The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) responded External link opens in new window or tab positively in a blog post saying, "OCTAE is proud that our CTE (Career, Technical Education), adult education, and community college programs serve many English language learners and help them achieve academic, career, and community integration success. We also recognize the important role that improving English proficiency plays in immigrant and refugeeĀ families, contributing to the academic and career success of two or more generations. We encourage all of our providers to make use of these new tools and guidance."

In addition to the guidance, the Departments also released additional tools and resources to help schools in serving English learner students and parents with limited English proficiency:

  • A fact sheet in English and in other languages about schools' obligations under federal law to ensure that English learner students can participate meaningfully and equally in school.
  • A fact sheet in English and in other languages about schools' obligations under federal law to communicate information to limited English proficient parents in a language they can understand.
  • A toolkit External link opens in new window or tab to help school districts identify English learner students, prepared by the Education Department's Office of English Language Acquisition. This is the first chapter in a series of chapters to help state education agencies and school districts meet their obligations to English learner students.

The fact sheets and toolkit, in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF External link opens in new window or tab), may be downloaded using links in the media release External link opens in new window or tab issued by the Department of Education.

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. The EEOA, similar to Lau, requires public schools to take appropriate action to help English learner students overcome language barriers and ensure their ability to participate equally in school.

The guidance explains schools' obligations to:

  • identify English learner students in a timely, valid and reliable manner;
  • offer all English learner students an educationally sound language assistance program;
  • provide qualified staff and sufficient resources for instructing English learner students;
  • ensure English learner students have equitable access to school programs and activities;
  • avoid unnecessary segregation of English learner students from other students;
  • monitor students' progress in learning English and doing grade-level classwork;
  • remedy any academic deficits English learner students incurred while in a language assistance program;
  • move students out of language assistance programs when they are proficient in English and monitor those students to ensure they were not prematurely removed;
  • evaluate the effectiveness of English learner programs; and
  • provide limited English proficient parents with information about school programs, services, and activities in a language they understand.

Almost 5 million students in the United States are English learnersā€”about 9 percent of all public school students. From 2002 to 2011, the percentage of English learners in public schools increased in 40 states and the District of Columbia, and currently three out of every four public schools enroll English learner students.

The mission of the ED Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, sex and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. Additional information about OCR is available on the Office for Civil Rights External link opens in new window or tab Web page and additional resources, including previous guidance released on this topic, is available in this article at OCR External link opens in new window or tab.

Source: U.S. Department of Education media release External link opens in new window or tab.