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State & Federal Guidelines

(Adapted from SFUSD)
There are many Federal and State laws that establish the rights of English learners (ELs), and define the responsibilities of school districts serving them. In this section are some of the most pertinent Federal laws, and State laws affecting the education of ELs followed by a brief explanation of how these laws are enforced.

Federal Law

The most important Federal laws establishing the rights of all students are set forth in the:

Constitution of the United States, Fourteenth Amendment (1868)

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees that "...No State shall...deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Civil Rights Act, Title VI (1964)

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 declares that "...No person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color, or national origin...be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to, discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

Equal Educational Opportunities Act (1974)

The Equal Educational Opportunities Act makes educational institutions responsible for taking the necessary steps to overcome linguistic and/or cultural barriers that keep students from equal participation in instructional programs. Specifically, "...No State shall deny equal educational opportunity to an individual on account of his/her race, color, sex or national religion, by ...the failure of an educational agency to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students in its instructional programs..."

Supreme Court

In addition to the Federal laws, the following select court rulings further define the rights of English learners:

Lau v. Nichols (1974)

In Lau v. Nichols (1974), the United States Supreme Court held that San Francisco's failure to provide supplemental English language instruction to 1,800 students of Chinese ancestry violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (42 USC, Section 2000d). In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court declared that equality of educational opportunity for students who do not understand English requires that they not only have access to "the same facilities, textbooks, teachers and curriculum..." but also requires that they have access to learn the English language. Regardless of other factors, the Court found that "...students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education" when their opportunities to learn are limited to exposure to instruction in a language they do not understand.

Castañeda v. Pickard (Texas, 1981)

While Lau was important in the development of the legal basis to defend the rights of English learners, Castañeda has a special relevance, since it provided- and still provides- important criteria for determining a school's degree of compliance with the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (1974)

In the Castañeda suit, parents of Mexican American children charged the Raymondville Independent School District (Texas) with instructional practices that violated their children's rights. Those practices included "ability tracking" of students on the basis of discriminatory criteria that caused the segregation of Hispanic students; discriminating against Mexican Americans in the recruitment and hiring of school personnel; and failing to develop bilingual programs that facilitated learning by language minority students.

Reversing an initial District Court finding, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Mexican American plaintiffs. It then went on to formulate a test to determine school district compliance with the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (1974). compliance requires the satisfaction of three criteria:

  1. Theory: The school must pursue a program based on an educational theory recognized as sound or, at least, as a legitimate experimental strategy.

  2. Practice: The school must actually implement the program with instructional practices, resources, and personnel necessary to transfer theory into reality.

  3. Results: The school must not persist in a program that fails to produce results.

It is significant to note that, while the Castaneda ruling was handed down In the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals- whose jurisdiction includes Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi-the Castaneda test has been applied in a number of different states, including California.

For students and teachers, the passing of this law means each English learner receives a program of instruction in English-language development in order to develop proficiency in English as rapidly and effectively as possible AND academic instruction for English learners is designed and implemented to ensure that all English learners have meaningful access to grade level core content.

California Law

Former State Bilingual Education Act : AB 507

This act (1984) established specific bilingual program requirements for identification, instruction, staffing assignments, classroom composition, reclassification, and parent involvement.

Education Code 300-340 (Proposition 227)

In June of 1998, California voters passed a referendum known as Proposition 227. With the passage of Proposition 227 came a series of mandates that directly affected classroom experiences for English learners statewide, mainly, placing English instruction as the top priority in programs for English learners.

The provisions set forth by Proposition 227 mandated a "structured English immersion" or "sheltered English immersion" program in which "nearly all classroom instruction is in English but with the curriculum and presentation designed for children who are learning the language." The new law specified that children must be placed "for a period of not less than 30 days during that school year in an English-only language classroom before a parental waiver would be able to move the child into an alternative program." Under this law parents have the option to complete a waiver, requesting the district to place their child in an alternate program.

Proposition 227 did not eliminate bilingual education or the requirements for CLAD/BCLAD teacher certification. The law maintains that if there are 20 families of the same language at the same grade level that request bilingual education classes at a school, the school is required to set up a program.

Reclassification of English Learners

One of the most important milestones for an English learner is his/her reclassification from an official status of EL to one of reclassified fluent English proficient (RFEP). An EL student qualifies for reclassification when he/she is able to attain the acceptable standard for all criteria listed on the district English Learner Reclassification Profile.

Reclassification can take place at any time, but usually occurs in the spring when standardized test results become available. Anyone who is familiar with a student's academic record may recommend him/her for reclassification. Typically, persons recommending an EL for reclassification would include one or more of the following: classroom teachers, counselors, EL coordinators, EL administrators or parents/guardians of ELs.

Follow-up Monitoring of Reclassified Students

State law requires RFEP students to be formally monitored for a minimum of two years beyond the date of reclassification to ensure they are progressing satisfactorily and that additional academic support is provided when needed. District policy calls for reclassification follow-up monitoring reviews to be conducted every six to eight months after reclassification over the course of a two-year time frame.

Enforcement Policy

In addition, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education is charged with monitoring school districts' compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Every four years, California Department of Education (CDE) conducts a Program Monitoring review of EL programs, to ensure that schools and districts are in compliance with the laws protecting language minority children and the services they receive. EL program-specific federal and state legal requirements that are tested during this monitoring process, as well as examples of evidence that may be used to demonstrate compliance are contained in the CDE's 2020-2021 EL Program Monitoring Instrument (PDF).