Legal Considerations

Colorado English Language Development Program

Federal Laws and Legal Requirements

In the last fifty years, the United States has made significant progress toward advocating for and improving educational opportunities for all students. Federal statutes prohibiting discrimination in educational programs have been enacted to protect the rights of students; most notably Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting race, color, and national origin discrimination (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). This civil rights law and a number of other court cases rep- resent a national commitment to end discrimination in education (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Many state and federal laws are designed to help deliver the promise that every individual has the right to develop his or her talents to the fullest which have helped bring about profound changes in American education (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).

Below is a summary of federal laws and Supreme Court cases protecting English learners and district obligations in serving this population of students.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (1964)

• Prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin

• Students may not be excluded from any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance

Office for Civil Rights Memorandum (1970)

• Requires school districts to take affirmative steps to rectify language deficiencies

• Prohibits assignment to special education classes based on English language skills

• Requires parent notification of school activities

• Forbids specialized programs for English learners to operate as an educational dead-end or permanent track

Lau v. Nichols – 414 U.S 563 (1974): Supreme Court case which reaffirmed Title VI of the Civil Rights Act

  • A civil rights case was brought by Chinese American English learners in San Francisco, California which claimed that lack of linguistically appropriate accommodations (e.g. educational services in English) effectively denied the students equal educational opportunities on the basis of their ethnicity, as required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • The US Supreme Court in 1974 ruled in favor of the students

“There is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curriculum; for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education.”

Equal Educational Opportunities Act of (1974)

  • Denial of equal educational opportunity prohibited
  • Prohibits discrimination against faculty, staff and students, including racial segregation of students.
  • Requires school districts to take action to overcome academic and linguistic barriers to students’ equal participation

The Lau Remedies (1975)

  • Specifies approved approaches, methods, and procedures for: Identifying and evaluating national origin minority students’ English language skills;
  • Districts and schools required to:
  • – Determine instructional English language development program
  • – Decide when English learners no longer need English language development services
  • – Determine the professional standards educators must meet to deliver the English language development program

Castañeda v. Pickard (1981): Court case challenging a school district for not meeting Lau v. Nichols and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act

• Roy Castañeda, father of two Mexican-American children, led suit against the Raymondville Independent School District(RISD) in Texas arguing

– that the district failed to establish sufficient bilingual education programs, which would have aided his children in overcoming the language barriers that prevented them from participating equally in the classroom and

– there was no way to sufficiently measure the Raymondville Independent School District’s approach to over- coming language barriers, as required in Lau v. Nichols (1974)

• Court ruling established three prong approach to measure compliance with the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (1974) as it relates to English learner programs.

– Theory-ELD program must be based on sound educational theory

– Practice-ELD program is implemented with fidelity and with appropriate scale and human resources, to transform theory into practice.

– Evaluation-Measures effectiveness of ELD program.

Plyler v. Doe: Right to A end Free Public School (1982)

The US Supreme Court struck down a state statute denying funding for education to unauthorized immigrant children and simultaneously struck down a municipal school district’s attempt to charge unauthorized immigrants an annual $1,000 tuition fee for each undocumented immigrant student to compensate for the lost state funding. As a result of Plyler ruling, public schools may not: Deny admission to a student during initial enrollment or at any other time on the basis of undocumented status.


Office of Civil Rights and Department of Justice Guidance and Resources:

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), 2017

President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law on December 10, 2015. This bipartisan measure reauthorizes the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the nation’s national education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students.

ESSA includes provisions that will help to ensure success for students and schools. Below are some of the key provisions. The law:

• Advances equity by upholding critical protections for America’s disadvantaged and high-need students.

• Requires—for the first time—that all students in America be taught to high academic standards that will prepare

them to succeed in college and careers.

• Ensures that vital information is provided to educators, families, students, and communities through annual statewide assessments that measure students’ progress toward those high standards.

• Helps to support and grow local innovations—including evidence-based and place-based interventions developed by local leaders and educators—consistent with our Investing in Innovation and Promise Neighborhoods

• Sustains and expands this administration’s historic investments in increasing access to high-quality preschool.

• Maintains an expectation that there will be accountability and action to effect positive change in our lowest- performing schools, where groups of students are not making progress, and where graduation rates are low over extended periods of time.


(Taken from the Guidebook on Designing, Delivering, and Evaluating Services for English Language Learners, Colorado Department of Education, 2018)