SAN JUAN, RGV – Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD Superintendent Daniel P. King has been included in the roll out of a federal guidance document that reminds states and school districts of their obligations towards English learner students.

The document, issued jointly by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice, points out that it is the duty of states, school districts and schools to ensure “English learner students have equal access to a high-quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential.”

This is what Dr. King says in the document:

“It is critical that English learners are provided every opportunity to participate and excel in all of the educational opportunities offered by our schools. These guidelines clearly detail the type of support and services these students and their families need to ensure that they are able to receive the full benefits of public education. A quality educational program that adheres to these guidelines will ensure that English learners have the opportunity to become leaders and contributors in our communities.”

Almost five million students in the United States are English learners – about 9 percent of all public school students. In many schools in the Rio Grande Valley and along the Texas-Mexico border the percentage is above 50 percent. According to the Department of Education, from 2002 to 2011, the percentage of English learners in public schools increased in 40 states and the District of Columbia, and currently three out of every four public schools enroll English learner students.

According to the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, this is the first time a single guidance sheet has addressed the array of federal laws that govern schools’ obligations to English learners. The guidance explains schools’ obligations to:

identify English learner students in a timely, valid and reliable manner;
offer all English learner students an educationally sound language assistance program;
provide qualified staff and sufficient resources for instructing English learner students;
ensure English learner students have equitable access to school programs and activities;
avoid unnecessary segregation of English learner students from other students;
monitor students’ progress in learning English and doing grade-level classwork;
remedy any academic deficits English learner students incurred while in a language assistance program;
move students out of language assistance programs when they are proficient in English and monitor those students to ensure they were not prematurely removed;
evaluate the effectiveness of English learner programs; and
provide limited English proficient parents with information about school programs, services, and activities in a language they understand.

In addition to the guidance sheet, states, school districts and schools have been given:

* A fact sheet in English and in other languages about schools’ obligations under federal law to ensure that English learner students can participate meaningfully and equally in school.
* A fact sheet in English and in other languages about schools’ obligations under federal law to communicate information to limited English proficient parents in a language they can understand.
* A toolkit to help school districts identify English learner students, prepared by the Education Department’s Office of English Language Acquisition. This is the first chapter in a series of chapters to help state education agencies and school districts meet their obligations to English learner students.

Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary of civil rights in the Department of Education, said: “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. 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.”

Vanita Gupta, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at DOJ, said: “The diversity of this nation is one of its greatest attributes. 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.”

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