Education Law Center is recommending that New Jersey strengthen the requirements for timely and effective communication with parents of the 70,000 English language learners (ELL) across the state. This includes clear directives to districts to increase parental notification requirements, as well as written translation and oral interpreter services, to ensure meaningful communication in accordance with state and federal mandates.
The recommendations were submitted to the State Board of Education (SBOE) in testimony delivered on June 3 by ELC attorney and Skadden Fellow Jessica Levin. Ms. Levin is leading a two-year effort at ELC to advocate for improvements to bilingual education and other essential educational services for ELLs, a growing segment of New Jersey’s public school enrollment.
“Parents of ELLs and limited English proficient parents have the same right to participate in their children’s education as all other parents do, and the law requires districts to make sure that right is a reality,” Ms. Levin said.
New Jersey school districts are required to provide language assistance programs to students who need to learn English under the New Jersey Bilingual Education Act. The SBOE is currently in the process of readopting the regulations that implement the Act and which govern areas including the identification of ELLs, provision of bilingual education programs and other services, teacher qualifications, and parent notice requirements.
The NJDOE has released a “discussion paper” outlining proposed amendments to the Bilingual Education regulations. These amendments include replacing references to “limited English proficient students” with the updated term “English language learners (ELLs)” and specifying a deadline for informing parents that their child is eligible for language assistance programs. The majority of the proposed amendments, however, are non-substantive changes.
ELC’s testimony underscored the need to improve school districts’ communication with parents of ELLs and with limited English proficient parents more broadly. ELC encouraged the SBOE to expand parental notification requirements in ways that give parents of ELLs more information about their children’s academic progress and instructional options, and to increase translation and interpretation services for parents.
ELC also highlighted compliance problems with state and federal protections for ELLs and parents, including parental rights to translation and interpretation, and urged the SBOE to strengthen enforcement mechanisms in the Bilingual Education regulations.
“ELC has received numerous complaints from parents about the lack of translation and interpretation services to facilitate their participation in educational decision-making, which in turn presents significant impediments to student success. The first step in remedying these widespread problems is the adoption of clear rules regarding district obligations,” Ms. Levin noted. “New Jersey’s bilingual education regulations enshrine many important rights of ELLs and parents, and we are hopeful that these will be amplified during the readoption process. But these rights are meaningless if districts are unaware, of or unwilling to, abide by them.”
The SBOE will hear public testimony about the readoption of the Bilingual Education Administrative Code on July 8 in Trenton. ELC urges parents, advocates, educators, and other stakeholders to provide testimony on the need for increased protections for ELLs and parents, as well as any ongoing violations of students’ right to bilingual education and related services. Members of the public may also provide submissions during the 60-day written comment period that will follow publication of the proposed regulations in the New Jersey Register.
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