Statutory requirements for educating English Language Learners (ELLs) not served in required programs of bilingual education
What type of program must a district offer English language learners (ELLs) or limited English proficient (LEP) students for whom a bilingual education program is not available or whose parents have opted the student out of the program?
ELL students for whom a bilingual education program is not available should be offered the type of English as a second language (ESL) program that is defined by Sectopm 10-17 e-j inclusive, of the Connecticut General Statutes, i.e., a program that uses English as the instructional language and that enables students to achieve English proficiency and academic mastery of subject matter content. This means assisting ELL students in developing speaking proficiency and literacy in English and in mastering the same academic content required of all other students, e.g., language arts, literature, mathematics, science and social studies. Pursuing academic studies in English requires a high degree of proficiency and literacy in the language. Acquiring such proficiency takes time and rigorous study. As ESL program students progress in English acquisition, they are introduced to greater amounts of academic content, i.e., academic studies follow closely upon acquisition of the language in which they are taught. The most common approach used by teachers experienced in educating this population is the "sheltered" content teaching approach. Teachers who use this approach modify their instruction to render it understandable or comprehensible to students. They do this by speaking at a level of English the students can comprehend, by assisting students in acquiring the academic language of the various content areas, and by providing the students with many "contextual clues" regarding the meaning of what is taught. Teachers commonly use such contextual clues as pictures, manipulates, body language and gestures, and hands-on teaching activities to make what they are teaching understandable to students who are concurrently in the process of acquiring English as a second or additional language.
The statutory basis for providing ELLs with this type of educational program, i.e., ESL and sheltered content instruction, is twofold. Section 10-4a of the Connecticut General Statutes states: "…the educational interests of the state shall include, but not be limited to, the concern of the state that (1) each child shall have for the period prescribed in the general statutes equal opportunity to receive a suitable program of educational experiences…" It would seem reasonable that a "suitable program of educational experiences" for students who are non-English or limited English proficient would include an opportunity to develop proficiency and literacy in English and exposure to content areas in English in a form that they can understand.
The other legal basis for providing ELLs such a program is to be found in Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This Act states: "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." In a September 1991 memorandum to senior staff of the United States Office of Civil Rights, the then Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights stated that schools have an obligation to comply with "the regulation implementing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide any alternative language programs necessary to ensure that national origin minority students with limited-English proficiency (LEP students) have meaningful access to the schools' programs." The Civil Rights Act and the memorandum are not specific regarding the types of programs that ought to be offered to ELLs. Nevertheless, in determining whether schools are in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Office of Civil Rights employs a set of criteria regarding the adequacy of programs offered and the need for a formal program. The criteria for program adequacy include the following: soundness of educational approach; proper implementation (staffing, exit criteria, special education programs, gifted/talented programs and other specialized programs); and program evaluation.
For ELL students to have "meaningful access to the school's program," it would seem reasonable to provide them with an opportunity to develop English proficiency and literacy over time through a well-executed ESL program and with the necessary modifications and supports that will enable them to achieve academically through English.