ELMS Project

Legal Issues and English Language Learners

English Language Learners (ELLs) in the public school system face issues and barriers that native speakers do not. In order to learn alongside native speakers, ELLs must first learn to master the English language. Debates have continued for many years in regards to what are the most appropriate strategies to use when educating ELLs. Unfortunately, legal issues can arise when making educational plans for these students, even with the best of intentions from administrators, principals, and teachers. Understanding the legal issues that may emerge regarding ELLs will help school districts make informed decisions. From the standpoint of advocates, the issues that arise in regards to the equal educational opportunities for these children include:

  • Funding: Whether or not local money is equally spent on instruction and materials for ELLs compared to native speaking students in the classroom. Whether or not federal funding (e.g., Title I) is being used to supplement or supplant local money.
  • Teacher Certification and Training: Whether or not teachers with ELLs in the classroom have the necessary training (e.g., in ESL) to effectively educate these students.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation: How does the district (and state) know whether or not the instruction of ELLs is successful?
  • Documentation: What are the responsibilities of a school district to educate students whose legal status is uncertain? How does fluctuating enrollment of undocumented students affect the school district?

Each of these issues has resulted in litigation. Our guest speaker, Attorney Alan J. Rom, will discuss what districts can do to avoid lawyers like him!

About Attorney Alan J. Rom

Alan J. RomAlan Jay Rom got his introduction to education law when he brought a lawsuit against the Hartford (CT) Public Schools to implement bilingual education in 1974. After negotiating a federal court consent decree in 1977, he left to become staff counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of the Boston Bar Association. Over the next 18 years he represented parents of ELLs in 12 Massachusetts communities in Federal Court and the Office for Civil Rights, winning relief in all of them. When the law in Massachusetts changed in 2002, he collaborated with Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy, Inc. (META) on several federal claims.

From 1982 to 2005, Attorney Rom served as co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the Massachusetts school finance litigation, McDuffy v. Secretary of the Executive Office of Education (liability, 1993) and Hancock v. Driscoll (relief, 2005).
Attorney Rom has spoken at many conferences and has published several articles on education and the law, found on his website, www.romlawoffice.com. He is currently in private practice in employment law, serves as a volunteer attorney for META dealing with educational issues affecting ELLs. He also teaches constitutional law and civil rights at Tufts University.

He is admitted to practice in the state courts in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Ohio and the U.S. Supreme Court, the Federal Courts of Appeal for the First and Second Circuits, and the Federal District Courts for the Districts of Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey.