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Immigrant / English Language Learner


State and federal laws require that students who do not speak English or whose native language is not English and struggle to perform classroom work in English receive instruction that is designed to help them learn both English and mainstream course content.

These students are often referred to as limited English proficient (LEP) students or English language learners (ELLs). When a new student enters a school district, it is the district’s responsibility to determine if the student is LEP.

Federal Definition of Limited English Proficient (LEP):

“… enrolled in elementary or secondary education, often born outside the United States or speaking a language other than English in their homes, and not having sufficient mastery of English to meet state standards and excel in an English-language classroom.” (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001)

Educational Rights of LEP/ELL and Immigrant Students

A free public education and equal educational opportunities. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in any program or activity receiving federal funds. Immigrant and non-English speaking students are, by law, guaranteed a free public education and equal educational opportunities from Kindergarten through 12th grade up until the age of 21, regardless of their immigration status.

Decide whether to enroll in an English Language Learner (ELL) program. Participation in an ELL program is voluntary, thus parents can choose to enroll or not enroll their child(ren) in an ELL program. Even if a family decides not to participate in an ELL program, the school district still has a responsibility to ensure that the student has an equal opportunity to have his or her English language and academic needs met.

Evidence-based and effective ELL programs. Michigan Department of Education (MDE) requires that school districts to provide high quality language instruction programs that are shown to increase English proficiency and academic achievement.

Alternative services. Schools must provide alternative services to ELL students until they are proficient enough in English to participate meaningfully in the regular program. In determining when an ELL student is ready to exit an ELL program, the school and/or district must consider the following factors

  • The student’s ability to participate successfully without the use of adapted or simplified English materials.
  • The student’s ability to keep up with their non-ELL peers in a general education classroom.
  • Objective measures of the student’s ability to read, write, speak, and comprehend English.

Accommodations when taking annual state academic achievement tests. While states are required to include LEP students in their assessments of academic achievement, they must provide LEP students with appropriate accommodations. Thus, states should, to the greatest extent possible, provide LEP students with assessments that are in the language and form most likely to yield accurate data on what the student knows and is able to do.

Enroll in school and receive services. Schools cannot require proof of citizenship or legal residence to enroll or provide services to immigrant students. When determining eligibility for programs and services, schools cannot reject students because they don’t have a social security card or because of their immigration status. Students are entitled to receive all school services, regardless of legal status, including:

  1. Free or reduced breakfast or lunch
  2. Transportation
  3. Educational services
  4. Services outlined in educational laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the No Child Left Behind Act.

Not discuss, or answer questions about, immigration status. Schools may not ask about a student or parent’s immigration status. Furthermore, parents are not required to provide a social security number to schools.

Provide alternative proof of student’s identity. School districts are required by law to ask for a certified copy of a birth certificate of every newly enrolled student. If you do not possess a birth certificate, you can provide other proof of the child’s identity and age and provide a sworn statement explaining why a birth certificate is unavailable.


Michigan Department of Education English Language Learner Programs

U.S Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition

National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition


For more information about specific laws and policies regarding the educational rights of immigrant students click here.

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