By Jim Gerl, Esq.
January 7, 2015
The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice 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.
"Four decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Lau v. Nichols that all students deserve equal access to a high-quality education regardless of their language background or how well they know English," said Education Department Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.
"Today's guidance not only reminds us of the court's ruling, but also provides useful information for schools as they work to ensure equity for students and families with limited English proficiency."
"The diversity of this nation is one of its greatest attributes," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division at DOJ. "Ensuring English learner students are supported in their education supports all of us. Today's guidance—40 years after passage of the landmark Equal Educational Opportunities Act—will help schools meet their legal obligations to ensure all students can succeed."
The guidance includes the following(all of which are linked here): a toolkit, a fact sheet about schools obligation under federal laws to ensure meaningful participation by students, and a fact sheet about shcools obligations under federal law to communicate in a language that ELs and their parents understand.
Concerning EL students with disabilities, the guidance made the following points:
- EL students with disabilities must be provided both the language assistance and disability-related services to which they're entitled under Federal law.
- EL students who may have a disability, like all other students who may have a disability and may require services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, must be located, identified and evaluated for special education and disability-related services in a timely manner.
- To avoid inappropriately identifying EL students as students with disabilities because of their limited English proficiency, EL students must be evaluated in an appropriate language based on the student’s needs and language skills.
- To ensure that an individualized plan for providing special education or disability-related services addresses the language-related needs of an EL student with a disability, it is important that the team designing the plan include participants knowledgeable about that student’s language needs.
About Jim Gerl, Esq.
Jim Gerl is a consultant for a state and local education agencies; he also writes regulations and he speaks on special ed law topics. He has presented at many national and regional conferences, and he has trained, evaluated, coached and mentored hearing officers, mediators and complaint investigators from every state. He's also a due process hearing officer and mediator for a number of states.