English Learners

ELC has long worked to address the persistent challenges facing English Learner (EL) students and Limited English Proficient (LEP) parents. Through individual representation, litigation, and policy advocacy, ELC has contributed to efforts to secure the educational rights of EL students and LEP parents by enforcing access to public education, including for undocumented students, under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe, and the removal of language barriers under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal and state laws.

For both the most current and archival information on ELC’s English Learners work, please visit our News page.

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Advocacy & Litigation

Approximately 7%, or 94,000, of New Jersey’s public school students are ELs, and about 27% of New Jersey students speak a language other than English at home. Schools must welcome and serve all students, and must take affirmative steps to address language barriers so that EL students may participate meaningfully in their schools’ educational programs. Schools also have an obligation to ensure meaningful communication with LEP parents in a language they can understand, so they may fully participate in their child’s education.

Parents with limited English proficiency whose children receive special education services can use ELC’s sample parent letter, available in English and Spanish, to request interpretation and translation services. ELC’s information sheet, “Interpretation and Translation in the Special Education Process: School District Obligations and the Rights of LEP Parents,” also available in English and Spanish, provides additional information and is intended to be used as an enclosure to the parent letter when sent to the school district.

In the wake of the 2016 election and in response to reports of increased harassment, intimidation, and bullying based on characteristics such as immigration status in schools in New Jersey and nationwide, ELC and other advocates worked to ensure schools are “safe havens” for students and their families. ELC and other New Jersey organizations urged the New Jersey Commissioner of Education to reaffirm the state’s strong public policy against discrimination, inform and remind educators of their legal obligation to protect students as required by federal and state law, and ensure safe and welcoming school environments. Some New Jersey school districts adopted resolutions affirming similar principles.

ELC and the ACLU of New Jersey represented civil rights and parent advocacy organizations including the Latino Action Network and the Latino Coalition of New Jersey in In Re N.J.A.C. 6A:8, which challenged the New Jersey Department of Education’s imposition of new high school graduation requirements that violated state law governing graduation assessments and had a disproportionate negative impact on students of color and EL students. In 2018, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, invalidated the illegal rules, and in 2019 the court approved a consent order allowing students to continue accessing existing pathways to graduation.

ELC has continued to advocate for the rights of EL students and LEP parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. ELC released a fact sheet and flyer in English and other major languages about the rights of New Jersey EL students and LEP parents during and after the pandemic. In 2021, ELC collaborated with NJ Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages/NJ Bilingual Educators and the New Jersey Consortium for Immigrant Children to publish a report entitled English Learners in New Jersey: Exposing Inequities and Expanding Opportunities in the Wake of the Pandemic, which documents widespread shortfalls in educational opportunities for EL students and offers concrete recommendations for improvement.¸


To access ELC’s resources about English Learners, visit the Publications page on this website.

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