The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice have 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.
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 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.
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.
IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act were amongst the highlighted laws that needed to be given strict attention in addressing the needs of students with limited English proficiency. The IDEA requires SEAs and school districts to, among other things, make available a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all eligible children with disabilities. Under the IDEA, FAPE means, among other things, special education and related services at no cost to parents provided in conformity with the student’s IEP. Section 504 is a Federal law that prohibits disability discrimination by recipients of Federal financial assistance. Section 504 covers not only students with disabilities who have been found to be eligible for services under the IDEA but also students with disabilities who are not IDEA eligible, but meet Section 504’s broader definition of disability. As is true under the IDEA, Section 504 requires school districts to provide FAPE to qualified students with disabilities in a school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the student’s disability.
Through the combined efforts of the Departments, SEAs, and school districts this guidance will seek to make sure EL students receive equal educational opportunities. Read the full guidance here.