There exists a substantial body of Federal law which establishes the rights of English Learners (ELs) and which define the legal responsibilities of school districts serving these students. Administrators and school boards are responsible for local policies and programs and can turn for guidance and direction to this body of law. It includes the following:
1868 Constitution of the United States, Fourteenth Amendment
“… No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
1964 Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
“No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
Two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, one interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment and one interpreting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, have exercised considerable influence over the educational rights of language minority students. These cases may be summarized as follows:
1974 Lau v. Nichols
“Where inability to speak and understand the English language excludes national origin minority groups from effective participation in the educational programs offered by a school district, the school district must take affirmative steps to rectify the language deficiency in order to open its instructional program to these students.” “There is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curriculum for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education.”
Title I and Title III
English Learner provisions are included under Title I and Title III of NCLB. Title I outlines the state standards, assessment, annual yearly progress, and other accountability requirements for EL students. Title III provides funding to state and local education agencies who are obligated by NCLB to increase the English proficiency and core academic content knowledge of English learners.
No Child Left Behind
The fundamental Title VI requirement for EL students is that they have meaningful access to the district’s educational program. Therefore, the goals for success for EL students should relate to the goals maintained for all students throughout the district. Under federal law, programs to educate children with limited proficiency in English must be: (1) based on sound educational theory; (2) adequately supported so that the program has a realistic chance of success; and (3) periodically evaluated and revised. These are fundamental principles under federal law.