Legal Protections for K-12 English Learner and Immigrant-Background Students

Julie Sugarman
Date of Publication: 
March, 2019
Source Organization: 
Migration Policy Institute

State, town and school district set educational policy in the U.S., with some degree of federal oversight. In order for English Learners (ELs) and immigrant-background students to have equitable access to a meaningful education, the U.S. government has established several legal requirements that local authorities must meet. This report by the Migration Policy Institute explains these requirements and how states and local districts carry them out. The author covers seven distinct rules that are contained in the Every Student Succeeds Act and other relevant national legislation. The rules are: all children have the right to free, public education regardless of immigration status; schools cannot share personal information about immigrant students and families without their permission; English Learners must have meaningful access to education; states must hold schools accountable for ensuring ELs achieve English proficiency and academic standards; schools must use data and evidence to make decisions; schools must communicate with parents and guardians in a language they understand; and schools must meaningfully engage parents and guardians of ELs. The author discusses practical aspects of implementation, including what benchmarks to use in evaluating results and who has responsibility for enforcing each rule. For each rule, she also discusses how school systems may have fallen short in compliance. She considers these protections the “floor” from which schools and districts can build additional supports for ELs. (Patrick Bloniasz for The Immigrant Learning Center’s Public Education Institute)

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Sugarman, J. (2019). Legal Protections for K-12 English Learner and Immigrant-Background Students. Washington, D.C.: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from