English Language Acquisition Service Provision and Staffing Guidance

The Maine Department of Education recently received clarification from the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) regarding the provision of English language acquisition services to students who are multilingual learners (MLs). We recognize that the guidance we have received may have financial and programmatic implications for School Administrative Units (SAUs), and encourage SAUs to carefully review existing Lau Plans, and revise accordingly. See the Lau Plan Template and Guidance for assistance.

The following key clarifications were provided by OCR:

1. The “consultation model” of services is not considered to be based on sound educational theory and should not be used.
Through the “consultation model,” students who are MLs receive no direct services from a teacher qualified in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL). Instead, students spend the entirety of their academic day in the mainstream with teachers without ESOL qualifications, and an ESOL-endorsed teacher (or other professional learning provider) gives some training to the mainstream teachers through consultation. OCR advises that this service model may violate students’ civil rights, given that it provides neither sufficient, evidence-based services nor appropriately qualified staff to implement the ESOL program.  

2. MLs in English language proficiency levels one and two (as measured by WIDA assessments) should receive at least two periods of ESOL per day, and MLs above proficiency level two should receive at least one period of ESOL per day.
OCR recommends that schools adopt this minimum guideline for services for students who are MLs. A period is defined as the usual amount of time dedicated to any other content area, such as math or English language arts (ELA). In the case of block scheduling, a student who is an ML may have ESOL services every other day, similar to other content areas. 
Note that ELA or other content area periods may serve as ESOL periods for students in level 4.0 or higher only if the teacher is ESOL-endorsed and/or the course is co-taught with an ESOL-endorsed teacher. Co-teaching is a structured system of co-planning, co-instruction, co-assessment, and reflection; co-teaching is not synonymous with push-in services. 

3. Ed Techs, tutors, or other educators cannot provide the core ESOL services required by civil rights law, even under supervision of an ESOL-endorsed teacher.
As stated in the DOE/DOJ Dear Colleague Letter from January 7, 2015, Ed Techs may provide supplemental services only, which go above and beyond the core services that are provided by an ESOL-endorsed teacher. Additionally, the Letter states that “Paraprofessionals, aides, or tutors may not take the place of qualified teachers and may be used only as an interim measure while the school district hires, trains, or otherwise secures enough qualified teachers to serve its EL students.”

4.  ESOL services can be declined by parents/guardians only with meaningful consent.
Schools are advised to have programs in place that reflect the three clarifications shared above. OCR recommends that schools encourage parents/guardians of students who are MLs to enroll their children in the ESOL program. However, if parents/guardians elect to decline ESOL services altogether, or a particular type of service (such as pull-out), schools must first ensure that parents/guardians fully understand their children’s rights and options, as well as the educational implications of declining ESOL services. Even when parents/guardians decline ESOL services, schools continue to be responsible for meeting students’ academic and language learning needs.

A Follow Up FAQ Document for Priority Notice Regarding English Language Acquisition Service Provision and Staffing Guidance

In an effort to ensure clarity for school and SAU leaders, we have developed a list of frequently asked questions in response to recent guidance on ESOL services and staffing. As always, if we can further clarify or provide assistance, please contact Jane Armstrong, ESOL State Specialist, at jane.armstrong@maine.gov.

1.  Is this Priority Notice a mandate?
Maine does not currently have legislation to mandate specific English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) service provision parameters. The Priority Notice serves as guidance to districts to help them plan appropriately for their ESOL programs. The information contained in the notice is based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and its interpretation by the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), which are the two agencies that are charged with investigating civil rights violations.

2.  Will the Maine DOE be monitoring districts to enforce implementation of these guidelines?

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) serves as a resource, supporting schools in implementing best practices in ESOL. We do not have a role in civil rights compliance. Parents/guardians and other community members with concerns about suspected civil rights violations may file complaints with OCR, and an investigation would then be conducted by OCR.

3.  Does the guidance regarding the “consultation model” mean that districts cannot contract with ESOL teachers, and must hire them as staff members?  
Districts may still contract with teachers. However, regardless of whether an ESOL teacher is contracted or hired, the ESOL 660-endorsed teacher should be the person providing direct support to students, rather than educators who are not 660-endorsed.

4.  Since an Ed Tech may only provide supplemental services to MLs, above and beyond the core services required by civil rights law, what types of services would be considered supplemental?
If a student who is an ML receives the recommended 1-2 periods of ESOL support per day from an ESOL-endorsed teacher, an Ed Tech may, for example:

  • push into content area classes
  • provide homework help during study hall or before/after school
  • assist the student with developing skills in the student’s primary/home language

5.  How can districts implement this guidance, in light of the ESOL teacher shortage?  
The Maine DOE recognizes the challenges districts face to find ESOL-endorsed teachers, and we are currently exploring ways to help increase the number of ESOL teachers across the state. Meanwhile, using approaches such as co-teaching, supporting existing staff to pursue ESOL endorsement, creating regional partnerships between districts, and considering options such as online ESOL services may help to implement the service provision guidelines.

6.  If a district feels that its current ESOL program is working, why is the Maine DOE recommending changing it?  
The recommendations in the Priority Notice are based on direct guidance provided to the Maine DOE by the OCR, as well as an extensive list of settlement agreements between the DOJ and many school districts across the country whose ESOL services have not met the minimum expectations.

7.  What is the expected timeline for implementation of these guidelines?  
The Maine DOE has not established a recommended timeline, as each district will need to formulate its own individualized plan. In the event of an OCR or DOJ investigation, a case resolution or settlement agreement would include a specific timeline for the necessary changes to be made.

8.  How can districts increase the capacity of current classroom teachers to meet the needs of students who are MLs?  
There are many opportunities for professional learning on ESOL provided through the Maine DOE. The University of Maine at Farmington and the University of Southern Maine also offer courses on ESOL, including online courses for certified teachers to become ESOL endorsed.