Good morning – and thank you all for joining the call this morning.
Today, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education are issuing a guidance package to help state educational agencies and school districts comply with their obligations to English Learner students and Limited English Proficient parents under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, known as the EEOA.
English Learner students reflect and contribute greatly to the rich diversity of our nation’s schools. Almost 5 million students in the United States are English Learner students, and over the past decade (2002-2012), the percentage of English Learner students in public schools increased in four out of every five states. Today, they constitute 9 percent of all public school students, are enrolled in nearly three out of every four public schools, and their numbers are steadily rising nationwide.
It is crucial to our nation’s future that all schoolchildren, including English Learner students, have equal access to a high-quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential. All children deserve the opportunity to succeed in school, no matter where they are from or what language they speak.
English Learner students exhibit a deep desire to learn and engage in their classrooms, yet often face multiple barriers in their quest to do so. English Learner students and Limited English Proficient parents must be given the supports necessary to communicate and understand what is happening in their schools and to participate equally in the educational process.
This guidance celebrates the 50th anniversary of Title VI, the 40th anniversary of the EEOA, and the 40th anniversary of the seminal Title VI case Lau v. Nichols, in which the Supreme Court held that public schools must take affirmative steps to ensure that English Learner students can meaningfully participate in public educational programs. Shortly after the Lau decision, Congress enacted the EEOA, which confirmed that public schools and states must take “appropriate action” to overcome language barriers facing English Learner students.
Ensuring that EL students, including those with disabilities, receive equal opportunities to succeed in school is an enforcement priority of the Civil Rights Division and the Office for Civil Rights. Since 2009, the Civil Rights Division has entered into more than 20 agreements with states and school districts requiring, among other things, timely identification, appropriate instruction, and robust evaluation of EL students so that they do not face barriers to engaging in school.
We have achieved substantial progress since passage of Title VI a half century ago, and in the four decades since the Supreme Court’s decision in Lau and the enactment of the EEOA. Today’s guidance is the next step on the continuing journey to provide equal educational opportunities for all students, and to ensure that schools across the nation have the tools and support necessary to place students on the path to success.
Now, it is my pleasure to turn things over to my colleague, Assistant Secretary Catherine Lhamon, who will discuss the guidance in more detail.