Rights of Students with Limited English Proficiency

By Arianne Thomas

En español

Students who are unable to communicate fluently or learn effectively in English are referred to under the law as English Language Learners (ELL). Often, ELL students speak their native language at home with their families and can face challenges in a school environment where they are being taught in English. Schools are required under both federal and state law to provide supports for ELL students, as well as their parents. Language access issues affect a large population of students and their families—the Migration Policy Institute has reported that among the population of individuals who speak Spanish at home, 36.4% of those individuals are limited in their English proficiency.

Under Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Obama in 2015, schools are required to: identify English Language Learners, annually assess their English language proficiency, provide reasonable accommodations to ELL students on state assessments, and implement accountability systems with long-term goals and benchmarks of progress. Additionally, federal guidance states that ELL students should not be excluded from effective participation in extracurricular activities, inappropriately assigned to special education classes, or unnecessarily segregated from their native-English-speaking peers. Protections extend to the parents of ELL students as well; schools are required to provide notices to parents who don’t speak English in a language that they can understand.

Practically speaking, schools are required to identify ELL students within 30 days of the beginning of each school year. The best practice is for the school to screen students using the Ohio English Language Proficiency Screener, to determine their language ability and provide appropriate supports.

If your student is struggling in school because of limited English proficiency, and you believe that their school has not taken the appropriate steps to provide supports, including assistance with improving their English language skills, you should take the following steps:

  1. You should notify the principal of your concerns and talk with the school about steps that should be taken.
  2. If the school is not responsive to your concerns, you should call your local school district and schedule a time to speak with the superintendent.
  3. Finally, if you have tried steps one and two, you should contact the school board and explain your concerns, as well as the steps you have taken that have been unsuccessful. The school board can help you address these issues with your child’s school.
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