Feds Lay Out Rules for English Learners during Closures

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The U.S. Department of Education has issued a factsheet clarifying states’ responsibilities to English learners (ELs) and their parents during the extended school closures:

Annual ELP Assessment — If a state educational agency (SEA) cannot administer English language proficiency (ELP) assessments in spring 2020 due to COVID-related school closures, the requirement will be waived, but some SEAs have already administered ELP assessments to their students and can continue. A SEA that receives an ELP assessment waiver can use other resources to inform instructional and placement decisions for ELs when schools reopen. In particular, it can use formative assessments, and/or EL specialists, and teacher input.

Entrance Requirements — If a student enrolls in a new local education agency (LEA) that is currently closed, staff at the enrolling LEA are not obligated to screen that student for EL identification. However, if that LEA is operating via remote learning, it must screen to determine EL status to the best of its ability.

Identification can be based on an oral home language survey alone, even if the statewide standardized entrance procedures require additional criteria. However, the SEA must ensure statewide communication of, and maintain documentation of, any temporary change to its entrance procedures.

Providing Services to ELs — LEAs operating via remote learning must provide language instruction services to ELs. Such services can be provided virtually, online, or over the phone.

For mainstream classes with EL participants and both a content teacher and an EL teacher, the EL teacher should continue to collaborate with the content teacher to ensure that the appropriate supports and accommodations are provided to EL participants via remote learning. For mainstream classes with EL participants and only a content teacher, the content teacher should continue to provide appropriate supports and accommodations to EL participants to the best of their ability.

LEAs must provide language accommodations for ELs for content classes that are held remotely and can use Title III funds to do so. Such accommodations include extra time for assignments, videos with captioning or embedded interpreting, accessible or translated reading materials, other language services provided through video conferencing, an online translation dictionary, or other technological solutions.

If technology itself poses a barrier to access, or if educational materials simply are not available in accessible formats, educators can still meet their obligation to provide equally effective alternate access through the use of hard copy packets, teacher check-ins, or tutorials.

LEAs must provide a free appropriate public education to ELs with disabilities during school closures. SEAs, LEAs, and schools must, to the best of their ability, ensure that ELs with disabilities can be provided the special education and related services identified in their individualized education programs.

LEAs operating via remote learning must continue to provide equitable services to eligible ELs enrolled in private schools, although private school officials can elect to temporarily suspend equitable services during COVID closures. If funds allocated for equitable services in the 2019-2020 school year remain unobligated, they must be carried over and combined with the funds allocated for the 2020-2021 school year.

Use of Title III Funds — Title III funds can be used to supplement the basic instruction or support that must be provided to ELs. Such supplementary supports include additional online resources and software for ELs, or the addition of an EL teacher.

Title III funds can also be used to train teachers to use new online platforms and software designed for ELs if such training is specific to EL needs. However, if the training is for the same platform used by teachers in mainstream classes, and does not address EL needs, then the use of Title III funds would not be permitted.

Title III funds cannot be used to provide internet access, hotspots, and tablets or other devices for low-income ELs, even if an institution is providing them to low-income students in mainstream classes. If SEAs and LEAs wish to provide short-term connectivity support to ELs with disabilities, they should use state, local, and federal funds (e.g. subgrants under the CARES Act).

Exit Procedures — If a LEA cannot administer ELP assessments to all of its ELs in spring 2020, those ELs who were not assessed should be kept in EL status for the fall. There is an exception made for an EL with a disability who cannot be assessed in a particular domain due to lack of appropriate accommodations.

If a SEA has additional requirements for exit in addition to the ELP assessment, it can temporarily change its exit procedures and exit ELs based on only the ELP assessment. However, a SEA must ensure statewide communication of, and maintain documentation of, any temporary changes in it exit procedures for the 2019-2020 school year due to COVID closures.

Parents of ELs — To ensure meaningful communication with parents of ELs, SEAs and LEAs should consider all possible methods. Such methods include translated mailings and recorded telephone calls with different language options. SEAs and LEAs can generally use CARES Act funds for communication with parents, including translation and interpretation services.

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