Rhode Island Superior Court rules to enhance education for English learners

A Rhode Island judge ruled in favor of English-language learners earlier this month in a case that questioned whether or not the state’s education system was providing them with adequate support.

Since 2016, advocacy groups in Rhode Island have been calling on the state’s Department of Education to provide English learners with a more specialized educational framework in accordance with the regulations of the state. After discovering that many teachers of English learners did not have the proper certifications to work with English-learning students, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island (ACLU-RI) and Rhode Island Legal Services (RILS) filed an administrative complaint with the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) in 2016. 

Eventually, the incident made its way to the state’s Superior Court, which ruled against RIDE, according to a June 16 report from Go Local Providence, a news outlet in the state’s capital city. 

“This is a critical decision that benefits all English Learners in Rhode Island. It recognizes that they are entitled to receive direct services from teachers certified in the teaching of English Learners,” Veronika Kot, an attorney at RILS, told Go Local Providence.

More specifically, RIDE employed a “consultation model” for teachers of English learners, which the court viewed as insufficient for teaching students with special needs. Under the consultation model, teachers of English learners did not always have proper certifications to teach these students. Instead, they simply attended consultation sessions with teachers who were certified. These consultation sessions were notably inconsistent, with some occurring as infrequently as once every two months.

In 2018, two years after RILS and the ACLU-RI filed its initial complaint with RIDE, the U.S. Department of Justice conducted its own investigation of RIDE and noted that this model did not comply with federal law. This investigation found that many English learners did not receive any truly specialized instruction, which was likely detrimental to their education. After the Superior Court’s ruling, RIDE must now look into compensating the students for the education services they did not receive.

“It recognizes that special education students who are also English Learners must receive services that are appropriate to their particular needs, and that any program must be based on sound research and adequate resources,” Kot added. “Because the rights of these students have long remained unaddressed, it is hoped that both Providence and the State Department of Education act quickly to make these students whole.”


Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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