Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Issues Guidance Regarding English Learner Students

School districts offer specialized or advanced educational programs for students that are designed to boost college access, degree attainment, and occupational skills. However, civil rights data collected by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reveals that English Learner (EL) students are less likely to participate in such programs as compared to their non-EL classmates. Earlier this week, OCR issued guidance detailing a district’s obligation to ensure EL students are provided with a meaningful opportunity to participate in advanced course work and specialized programs.

OCR enforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives federal financial assistance from the Department of Education. To comply with this obligation, public school districts must take affirmative steps to ensure that EL students can meaningfully participate in educational programs and services. Consistent with that obligation, school districts must ensure EL students are not automatically screened out from participating in specialized or advanced programs because of their limited English proficiency. OCR’s guidance provides examples of practices that could potentially raise Title VI discrimination concerns, such as: (1) creating scheduling barriers; (2) using different selection criteria for students who are ELs; and (3) providing information about advanced programs exclusively to non-EL students. Additionally, the guidance notes that EL students remain entitled to appropriate language assistance services while participating in advanced or special programs.

OCR’s guidance is an important reminder to school districts that EL students must be provided with the opportunity for meaningful participation in advanced work and specialized programs.

If you have questions on the content of this update, please contact us. We are pleased to assist public schools in matters related to programming and Title VI compliance.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.