English Language Learners / Ages 2-18

5 Rights Families of English Language Learners Should Know

Advocating for your child can be overwhelming. Throw in a language barrier, and it can feel almost impossible. Here’s what you need to know if you’re a parent who speaks limited English.

Navigating the school system and advocating for your child is hard enough as-is. If English isn’t your primary language, it can feel even more overwhelming, because so many schools fall short on providing the support and services to families of English language learners. The good news is, you have the legal right to communicate with your child’s school in your own language—and school must communicate back with you in your language, too.

Here are five rights parents with limited English proficiency need to know about:


All children and young adults, regardless of immigration status, have the right to a free and adequate public education in the United States.

In Plyler v. Doe, the United States Supreme Court determined that schools cannot deny access to a student on the basis of their immigration status. Then, in Lau v. Nichols, the Supreme Court ruled that language-minority students must be ensured access to the same curriculum provided to their English-speaking peers in all public schools. It mandates that all limited English proficiency students should be provided with special language assistance.


Public schools must provide interpretation or translation services for parents.

The U.S. Department of Justice requires that schools communicate with parents in a language they understand. The individuals providing these services must be qualified or certified, and schools are not allowed to ask friends, family members, or untrained staff members (or students!) to translate for parents.


Public schools are required to provide parents with translated documents that relate to their child’s education.

 Some of these documents include: report cards, student discipline files, anything relating to special education, parent handbooks, and more. Click here for more information.


A school district may never ask for proof of your or your child’s citizenship.

School personnel are allowed to request information that proves you live within district lines, like phone bills, lease agreements, or water bills. They are also allowed to ask for paperwork that confirms your child’s date of birth. However, they are not allowed to ask for proof of immigration status. A school district may not bar your child from enrolling in the school if you choose to not provide them with your child’s social security number.


Parents have the right to request a special education evaluation at any time.

Many schools push back on requests to begin the special education evaluation process, particularly for students who are English language learners. You might hear the claim that the law requires certain interventions to take place first. This is false. Interventions are not allowed to delay the IEP process if a parent has initiated it. A parent can initiate the process at any time and all public schools must comply. Along the way, schools must also ensure that all updates and documents relating to the IEP are translated for the parent, and arrange for qualified interpreters to be present at all IEP meetings.

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