Federal and state governments have enacted laws and regulations, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Education Opportunities Act of 1974, to protect the rights of English language learners and their families. Every public school in the United States is required to provide a free and equitable education to all school age children who live within the boundaries of the LEA. Some federal laws are supported by funding to which all eligible LEAs are entitled (i.e., Title I, Title II, and Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001). However, LEAs must comply with the laws and regulations to the best of their abilities regardless of federal funding.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) reauthorizes a variety of federal educational programs found in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The federal Bilingual Education Act (Title VII) was reauthorized as Title III of NCLB. Written to aid state educational agencies (SEAs) and local educational agencies (LEAs) in responding to the needs of their English language learners, NCLB in no way undermines or amends the federal and state statutes and regulations that establish the rights of ELLs; however, it outlines the responsibilities of LEAs serving English language learners.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcing compliance with Title VI as it applies to programs funded by the United States Department of Education (USDOE). OCR’s principal enforcement activity under Title VI is the investigation and resolution of complaints filed by individuals alleging discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. The failure of LEAs to provide an equal educational opportunity for ELLs is investigated by OCR staff that work with school and LEA officials to resolve compliance issues. This is accomplished through guidance on program and services planning, resource support, technical assistance, and, if necessary, through the administration of proceedings or a referral to the United States Department of Justice for litigation.

The obligation of every school to enroll students from diverse language backgrounds, and to establish the foundation for guidance on how to provide quality education equitable for all students in Mississippi, including English language learners is defined by the following federal laws.

The federal laws clarify the obligation of every school not only to enroll students from diverse language backgrounds, but also to provide the foundation for guidance in establishing an equitable, quality education for Mississippi students, including ELLs:

1964 Civil Rights Act, Title VI

What the law says

“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.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000d.

What this means

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. Public institutions (like schools) must provide equal quality of educational services to everyone, Guidelines for English Language Learners 2011 13

including those who are Limited English Proficient (LEP). Title VI covers all educational programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the United States Department of Education (ED).

May 25, 1970, Memorandum

What the law says

“The purpose of this memorandum is to clarify policy on issues concerning the responsibility of LEAs to provide equal educational opportunity to national origin minority group children deficient in English language skills.‖

What this means

Where inability to speak and understand the English language excludes national origin-minority group children from effective participation in the education program offered by a LEA, the LEA must take affirmative steps to rectify the language deficiency in order to open its instructional program to these students. School districts have the responsibility to notify national origin- minority group parents of school activities, which are called to the attention of other parents. Such notice in order to be adequate may have to be provided in a language other than English.1

1 VII. May 25,1970, Office for Civil Rights Memorandum, ―Identification of Discrimination and Denial of Service on the Basis of National Origin.‖

Lau v. Nichols (US Supreme Court Decision 1974)

What the law says

The failure of school system to provide English language instruction to approximately national origin students who do not speak English, or to provide them with other adequate instructional procedures, denies them a meaningful opportunity to participate in the public educational program, and thus violates § 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination based "on the ground of race, color, or national origin," in "any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance," and the implementing regulations of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Pp. 414 U. S. 565-569.

What this means

The Supreme Court stated that these students should be treated with equality among the schools. Among other things, Lau reflects the now-widely accepted view that a person's language is so closely intertwined with their national origin (the country someone or their ancestors came from) that language-based discrimination is effectively a proxy for national origin discrimination.

1974 – Equal Education Opportunities Act

What the law says

The Equal Education Opportunities Act of 1974 states: “No state shall deny equal educational opportunity to an individual based on his or her race, color, sex, or national origin 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.”

What this means Guidelines for English Language Learners 2011 14

The EEOA prohibits discriminatory conduct, including segregating students on the basis of race, color or national origin, and discrimination against faculty and staff serving these groups of individuals, as it interferes with their equal educational opportunities. Furthermore, the EEOA requires LEAs to take action to overcome students' language barriers that impede equal participation in educational programs.

Plyler v. Doe (U.S. Supreme Court Decision 1982)

What the law says

“The illegal aliens who are plaintiffs in these cases challenging the statute may claim the benefit of the Equal Protection Clause, which provides that no State shall „deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws‟ . . . The undocumented status of these children does not establish a sufficient rational basis for denying them benefits that the State affords other residents . . . No national policy is perceived that might justify the State in denying these children an elementary education.”

-457 U.S. 202

What this means

The right to public education for immigrant students regardless of their legal status is guaranteed.

Schools may not require proof of citizenship or legal residence to enroll or provide services to immigrant students.


Schools may not ask about the student or a parent’s immigration status.

Parents are not required to give a Social Security number.

Students are entitled to receive all school services, including the following:

free or reduced breakfast or lunch,


educational services, and

– NCLB, IDEA, etc.

Presidential Executive Order 13166

What the law says

“Entities receiving assistance from the federal government must take reasonable steps to ensure that persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) have meaningful access to the programs, services, and information those entities provide.

What this means

Recipients of federal assistance are required to help students overcome language barriers by implementing consistent standardized language assistance programs for LEP. In addition, persons with limited English proficiency cannot be required to pay for services to ensure their meaningful and equitable access to programs, services, and benefits.

2001 – Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

What the law says

Title III of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requires that all English language learners (ELLs) receive quality instruction for learning both English and grade-level academic content. NCLB allows local flexibility for choosing programs of instruction, while demanding greater accountability for ELLs' English language and academic progress. Guidelines for English Language Learners 2011 15

What this means

Under Title III, states are required to develop standards for English Language Proficiency and to link those standards to the state's Academic Content Standards. Schools must make sure that ELLs are part of their state's accountability system and that ELLs' academic progress is followed over time by

establishing learning standards, that is, statements of what children in that state should know and be able to do in reading, math, and other subjects at various grade levels;


creating annual assessments (standardized tests, in most states) to measure student progress in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high schools;


setting a level (cut-off score) at which students are considered proficient in tested areas; and


reporting to the public on what percentages of students are proficient, with the information broken down by race, income, disability, language proficiency, and gender subgroups.


For a more detailed version of the law, see Appendix A – Federal Laws and Regulations.