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Rights of Limited-English Proficient Students

Because public schools are forbidden to discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin, under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, public schools are required to take measures to ensure that limited English proficient (LEP) students can fully participate in school programs and services. The students' limited English skills should not interfere with their accessibility to educational opportunities. See below for the most frequently asked questions regarding the rights of limited-English proficient (LEP) students.

What happens to limited-English proficient (LEP) students who are not offered services to help than overcome language barriers?

Limited-English proficient students (also sometimes referred to as English-language learners) may suffer repeated failure in the classroom, falling behind in grade, and dropping out of school if they are not provided services to overcome language barriers. Students who are not proficient in English are sometimes inappropriately placed in special education classes. Also, because of their lack of English proficiency, qualified students often do not have access to high track courses or "Gifted and Talented" programs.

What is the federal authority requiring school districts to address the needs of English language learners?

The section Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. In Lau v. Nichols, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the U.S. Department of Education memorandum of May 25, 1970, which directed school districts to take steps to help limited-English proficient (LEP) students overcome language barriers and to ensure that they can participate meaningfully in the district's educational programs

What does Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 require for English-language learner students?

Title VI (a federal law) requires programs that educate children with limited English proficiency to be:

  • Based on a sound educational theory;
  • Adequately supported, with adequate and effective staff and resources, so that the program has a realistic chance of success; and
  • Periodically evaluated and, if necessary, revised.

What if parents do not want their child to have services to address their English needs?

Parents can opt to not have their children enrolled in an English-language learners (ELL) program. When a parent declines participation, the district retains a responsibility to ensure that the student has an equal opportunity to have his or her English language and academic needs met. Districts can meet this obligation in a variety of ways (e.g. adequate training to classroom teachers on second language acquisition; monitoring the educational progress of the student).

How long does a district have to provide special services to ELL students?

ELL students must be provided with alternative services until they are proficient enough in English to participate meaningfully in the regular program.

To determine whether a child is ready to exit, a district must consider such factors as the students' ability to keep up with their non-ELL peers in the regular education program and their ability to participate successfully without the use of adapted or simplified English materials.

Exit criteria must include some objective measure of a student's ability to read, write, speak and comprehend English.

Get Professional Legal Help from a Civil Rights Attorney

Having limited English skills can be very frustrating to many students. But that frustration should not be aggravated by discrimination that limits their educational opportunities. If your child is an LEP student and have experienced discrimination at school, then you might want to get help from an attorney.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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