English-learning students and their parents face unique challenges in our country’s education system. A thoughtful language access plan can help them surmount those challenges.

English learners make up a significant chunk of students in the United States — roughly 10% of students in the country have limited English proficiency (LEP), though that number is significantly higher in states like California and Texas (17.7 and 20.1% respectively). Having LEP in the education system can be a struggle: Students with LEP have difficulty catching up to their peers when instruction is English-only, while parents with LEP may have trouble communicating their student’s needs effectively.

With the exception of dual-language programs, which emphasize the development of literacy in two different languages, the vast majority of education in the United States is conducted in English, which can of course present a challenge for English learners and their parents. The Civil Rights Act and Equal Educational Opportunities Act both require schools to enact measures to identify and accommodate English learners.

That means that English learners are “entitled to appropriate language assistance services to become proficient in English and to participate equally in the standard instructional program within a reasonable period of time,” while their parents are “entitled to meaningful communication in a language they can understand, such as through translated materials or a language interpreter, and to adequate notice of information about any program, service, or activity that is called to the attention of non-LEP parents,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education.

Addressing the linguistic needs of English learners and parents with LEP isn’t just important because it’s the law — it’s critical to ensuring children across the country have equitable access to a high-quality public education. English learners need to be able to learn at the same level as their peers; likewise, parents need to be able to make informed decisions about their child’s education, regardless of their English ability.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at just what those requirements are and what it looks like to be a student or parent with LEP in the education system today.

Welcome Centers

Before a child enrolls in the public school system, their parents will likely encounter a welcome center, which provides them with information about their child’s future education and how to enroll. Now, this isn’t always the case, but welcome centers are becoming increasingly more common in the nation’s more diverse school districts.

Families can also refer to these welcome centers year-round for information on enrollment, transferring to a different school and applying to middle and high schools within the district. As sources of this critical information, it’s important that welcome centers provide parents and students with LEP access to resources in the language they’re most comfortable with.

Welcome centers are often the first place parents with LEP can go to learn about the language services offered in their school district. It’s a good idea to hire bilingual staff and work with a language service provider to offer interpreting services to ensure that parents with LEP can understand all of the information offered at these family welcome centers. Additionally, they should be able to communicate with somebody about their student’s needs as an English learner — if a child needs extra classroom support, this is where parents can inform the district.

Language Access for Students

Language access is critical to the academic success of children with LEP in education. Inadequate language access can hurt a student’s academic success and it may be hard to catch up later on in their education.

English as a second language (ESL) programs play an important role in their educational journey. These programs provide targeted instruction tailored to the linguistic needs of students with LEP, helping them develop proficiency in English while also supporting their academic growth in other subjects. In addition to ESL programs, students can benefit from various support mechanisms offered within schools. This includes access to interpretation services during classroom instruction and assessments, as well as translation assistance for educational materials.

If an English learner has a disability covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, they may also be entitled to special education services through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This plan should also take into account their unique challenges as an English learner in devising a thoughtful approach to their future education.

After all, the IEP acts as a sort of roadmap for their academic career and can have a profound impact on their overall success as a learner. The IEP team should include at least one bilingual teacher who can communicate with the child in their native language, while other members of the IEP development team should have a basic level of cultural competency.

Language Access for Parents

Effective communication between parents with LEP and school staff is crucial for fostering parental involvement and supporting student success.

By providing access to interpreters during parent-teacher conferences, meetings, and school events, schools ensure that language barriers do not hinder meaningful dialogue.

Additionally, translation services for important documents, such as report cards, school notices, IEPs, and educational materials, enable parents to stay informed about their child’s progress and school-related information. Emails and text messages to parents should also be available in a parent’s preferred language so that they can stay up to date on what’s going on in the classroom.

When it comes to the complex process of developing an IEP for students with disabilities, parents with LEP need to be able to participate actively in the meetings held with teachers, administrators and other relevant specialists. Schools should work closely with interpreters to make sure that parents can understand what’s being said in these meetings. Since these meetings can get deep into the weeds of legal and educational jargon, it’s important to employ specialized interpreters familiar with the IEP process for the job.

And while not every state requires schools to translate an IEP for parents who don’t speak English, it’s good practice to do so if you want parents to be fully involved in their child’s education — and some states, like Colorado, are making an effort to mandate this practice under the law.


Students and families with LEP in the education system have to deal with a unique set of challenges that their English-speaking peers simply do not. Here are just a few things to consider for your school system’s language access practices:

  • Welcome centers play an important role in giving families and students information about their education — it’s crucial that these welcome centers have multilingual resources so that families with LEP can communicate with their district.
  • Students and families with LEP should have access to ESL programs, translation, and interpreting services to ensure that they don’t fall behind their English-speaking peers.
  • Schools must make an effort to communicate with parents with LEP in the language of their preference — that means offering interpreting and translation for meetings and important documents like report cards and IEPs.

If your school district is looking to improve its language access services for families with LEP, we can help. At Avantpage, we’re familiar with the needs of LEP families and are happy to provide interpreting and translation services for education agencies — contact us today at [email protected] or (530) 750-2040.