WASHINGTON – Today, in response to a letter from the Justice Department, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to grant the Commissioner of Education authority to draft state regulations that will require training of all Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) teachers who instruct English Language Learner (ELL) students. The department’s letter notified Massachusetts that it has violated the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA) by not mandating adequate training for SEI teachers. The resolution passed by the board today specifically directs the Commissioner to present the proposed regulations to the board by February 2012.
“We applaud the proactive efforts of the Commissioner of Education and the board to enact a regulation to ensure that teachers are adequately prepared to teach ELL students the academic subjects they need to be successful,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We stand ready to assist the commissioner in this effort, and know that teachers and school districts are eager for Massachusetts to exert leadership in this area as well.”
“Our education system must provide our children with opportunities to develop into productive citizens regardless of their proficiency in English. When English language learners lack properly trained teachers, those opportunities are curtailed,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “We share the goal of continued improvement to Massachusetts schools and look forward to the progress of this collaborative effort.”
The proposed regulation will define the preparation and training that teachers must have in order to instruct ELL students in academic content, along with a plan for implementing the new regulations. The timeline adopted by the board anticipates that the regulations drafted by the commissioner will be published for public comment in March 2012 provided they have received board approval, and contemplates a final board review of the regulations on or about June 2012.
The department’s July 22, 2011, letter informed the state that its voluntary approach to SEI training and ineffective monitoring process over the past seven years violated the EEOA by failing to ensure sufficient numbers of teachers who are qualified to deliver the state-mandated SEI program. The letter further informed the state that its current training did not prepare teachers adequately. To comply with the EEOA, the state must improve and then mandate the improved training to ensure that ELL students receive the services to which the law entitles them. The board’s resolution will require the commissioner to study the quality of the current SEI training further and get input from stakeholders and experts prior to proposing new regulations that will define the training’s content and delivery method and amend the current regulations on educator preparation and licensure.
The anticipated regulation will benefit the nearly 68,000 ELL students in Massachusetts’s public schools. The department’s violations letter stemmed in part from its joint investigation of Boston’s ELL programs with the U.S. Department of Education, which revealed serious shortages of qualified SEI teachers and thousands of ELL students without SEI services. The Department of Justice expects the commissioner’s plan to improve and mandate SEI training will significantly increase the numbers of qualified SEI teachers in all Massachusetts school districts.
The department notes with appreciation the efforts of districts, teachers, and their unions to participate in the current SEI training even in the absence of a state mandate. We look forward to collaborating with Massachusetts and other interested stakeholders to ensure the proposed regulations meet the needs of ELL students and their teachers.
Enforcement of the EEOA is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.