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Limited English Students: How Schools Can Help

Students in the United States often have the pleasure of being educated with a diverse group, but many face the challenge of crossing language barriers. These students come from homes where they speak little to no English, so their proficiency in the classroom is spread across varying levels – which can have a significant impact on their ability to learn.

Another obstacle is communicating with the parents. Not only do they want to help their children learn, but they also need to understand the education system. Unfortunately, they are unable to do that without the proper resources.

This leaves it up to schools to provide language access and support for students and families with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

Some Facts About LEP Students in the United States

Depending on where you live, the amount of LEP students may not seem so severe. Some of these statistics help put it in perspective.

  • There are about 25 million individuals that are certified LEP, but more than 61.6 million individuals speak something other than English in their homes.
  • Of children between 5 and 17, roughly 8 million have one or more parents or guardians with LEP.
  • In the public school system, roughly 9.3 percent are English Language Learners (ELL). The breakdown varies by setting:
    • Cities: 14.1 %
    • Suburban: 8.7 %
    • Rural: 3.5 – 6 %

Schools Have a Legal Obligation to Address This Issue

If you’re a school which receives state and federal aid, this is an issue for you to pay attention to. There are regulations in place that require you to accommodate the needs of LEP families.

Some regulations come from the state (such as Title III funding in California), and others are at the federal level (including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

It’s critical that you know which regulations cover your school district.

Actions That Schools Can Take

Meeting these requirements can feel overwhelming for overburdened schools, but an action plan can be broken down into a few steps.

Create a survey to investigate two main factors:

  • Determine the necessary languages. This will vary depending on the district, but it helps decide how to move forward.
  • Identify LEP parents. Make sure this responsibility doesn’t fall on the students, but also don’t assume that parents have the same English skills as their children.

Offer support in two areas:

  • Interpretation. Have interpreters around for parent-teacher conferences, orientation, counseling sessions, and similar events.
  • Translation. Translate necessary documents, such as report cards, parent handbooks, and student discipline policies.

Consider Using a Language Service

Some schools are able to handle all language needs internally, but a professional language service provider can be a very useful asset to a district. They can provide assistance for many more languages, and their knowledge and experience help make sure all laws and regulations are being followed.

Need a Resource for More Information?

This post is meant to give you an overview of how to better provide language access and support in your school, but it is by no means an exhaustive resource.

If you’d like to read about all of this in more detail, read through our free eBook. It will provide you with a lot more information to help you make sure everyone connected to your school is speaking the same language!

Educator's Guide to Language Access

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