Immigrants and
English Language Learners

Immigrants and Students Learning English Have Educational Rights

Being an immigrant in the community can be a stressful experience for students and their families. Schools and school districts can create a supportive environment that includes immigrant families and students who are learning English. By law, schools must provide certain services and support for immigrant students and English Language Learners— regardless of the student’s legal status.

We can help you understand your rights.

The Right to Go to School

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. 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.

Students who are immigrants have the right to all school services, regardless of legal status, including:

  • Free or reduced breakfast or lunch
  • Transportation
  • Educational services
  • Services outlined in educational laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Students don’t have to answer questions about or discuss their immigration status with a school. In fact, schools cannot legally ask about a student or parent’s immigration status.

Schools cannot require proof of citizenship or legal residence (or a social security number) 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.

When a school asks for a birth certificate as proof of identity, a student can provide an alternative. 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.


When English is Not Your Student’s Native Language

Students who don’t speak English, or who are learning English because they speak a different language at home, have the right to receive services that help them in school. By state and federal law, schools must provide instruction that helps these students learn English as well as classroom content.

Schools call students who do not speak English are known as English Langugae Learners (ELL). If a student doesn’t have sufficient mastery of English to meet state standards and to excel in an English-language classroom, the school might determine that they are Limited English Proficient (LEP). The school district needs to identify students who might qualify as LEP or ELL, per the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

In-School Support Services 

School districts must provide evidence-based and effective programs to help English Language Learners.
The Michigan Department of Education requires school districts to provide high-quality language instruction programs that are shown to increase English proficiency and academic achievement.

Parents can decide whether to enroll a student in an English Language Learner (ELL) program.
Participation in an ELL program is voluntary, so parents can choose to enroll or not enroll their child(ren). 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 their English language and academic needs met.

Until an ELL student is ready to participate meaningfully in the general classroom, schools must provide alternative services.
In determining when an ELL student is ready to leave 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

When taking annual state academic achievement tests, LEP students can be provided with accommodations.
While states are required to include LEP students in their assessments of academic achievement, they must provide LEP students with appropriate accommodations, such as testing materials in the language most likely to provide accurate data on the student’s performance.