New COVID-19 fact sheet on English learners

Responsibilities for providing services to English language learners during COVID-19 school closures
By: | June 1, 2020

In May, the U.S. Education Department released Fact Sheet: Providing Services to English Learners During the COVID-19 Outbreak, 120 LRP 15994 (OESE 05/18/20), which outlines states’ responsibilities to English learners and their parents during the extended school closures and remote learning due to the national emergency imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fact sheet includes guidance regarding the supplement, not supplant requirements under Section 3115(g) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95. Although the supplement, not supplant requirement applies to Title III funds even when a local educational agency is conducting remote learning, the document says that Title III funds may be used to supplement the basic instruction or support that must be provided to ELs, such as to supplement the language instruction educational program while schools are operating via remote learning.

For example, an LEA may use Title III funds to supplement coursework with additional online resources and software for ELs or to add an EL support teacher to provide support online or via telephone.

The fact sheet also provides information about the following topics:

• Annual English language proficiency assessment

• Entrance requirements

• Providing services to ELs

• Use of Title III funds

• Exit procedures

• Parents of ELs

In addition, regarding providing internet access, hotspots, and tablets or other devices for low-income students who are also ELs to enable their internet access, the fact sheet says that LEAs cannot use Title III funds if an LEA already provides remote learning for everyone, including internet access or educational technology for low-income students. According to the document, “that would violate the supplement, not supplant requirement under Section 3115(g) of ESEA.”

During the webinar “Serving English Learners in a Distance Learning Environment,” Julia Martin—legislative director with Brustein & Manasevit PLLC—said that making sure ELs have access to the internet and to electronic devices like tablets and laptops is a best practice school districts should have in place. Martin noted that the ability to provide remote learning resources varies by district both in terms of financial resources and what is practical, such as whether it is possible to have regular internet access in rural and remote areas. However, she highlighted that keeping the instruction accessible should be constant.

“If the student has to participate in something in order to progress to the next grade level—say there is a required assessment and they don’t have access to a device—I would say that [districts] would be facing some strong pushback from the federal level and the state level if you fail the student based on the inability to complete work when they don’t have access to a device or Wi-Fi,” she said.

Claude Bornel covers ELs and other Title I issues for ESEA Now, a DA sister publication.