US Departments of Education and Justice Issue Joint Guidance on English Learners

40 years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in Lau v. Nichols and the passage by Congress of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (both in 1974), the US Department of Education and the Department of Justice released joint guidance today (January 7, 2015) outlining and clarifying the core compliance issues for states, local school districts and schools regarding regulations and requirements for English Learner programs. This is a very significant document as it represents the first time that these two federal departments have issued joint guidance on this topic.  This emphasizes the fact that this issue has two important dimensions, an educational component and a civil rights component.

The document lays out the essential program requirements in English Learning programs, including issues of assessment, appropriate instruction, staff qualifications, curriculum, progress monitoring and exiting procedures. Most of what is presented here is not new policy.  What is new is the joint communication involving the two U.S. Departments.  This is an indication of the importance being placed on this area at the federal level.  State departments of education and local school districts would do well to review their current programs in light of this document.

Here is a link to the guidance document:

http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-el-201501.pdf

The new guidance document clarifies key compliance and program regulations for states and local districts 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 instruction 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.

As the English Learner population continues to grow in Oregon and the United States, these documents serve to remind states and districts of their responsibilities and to provide parents and communities with important information as advocates for the students in our schools.

Fact Sheet in English:

http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-factsheet-el-students-201501.pdf

Fact Sheet in Multiple Languages:

http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/ellresources.html

Fact Sheet in English with Parent Information:

http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-factsheet-lep-parents-201501.pdf

Fact Sheet in Multiple Languages with Parent Information:

http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/ellresources.html

Tool Kit on English Learner Programs:

http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oela/eltoolkitchap1.pdf

Patrick Burk, Ph.D.

Department of Educational Leadership and Policy

Graduate School of Education

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