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English as a Second Language (ESL) and the Disabled Child (FAQs)

Authored By: Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (Hammond Office) LSC Funded


FAQs About English as a Second Language (ESL) and the Disabled Child

What is ESL? +

ESL means English as a Second Language. The United States has become more diverse. Many people from other countries have immigrated to the United States and English is not their primary language. Some children do not hear English until they attend school.

What does an ESL program provide? +

The goal of these programs is to help foreign speakers become fluent in English. Different teaching skills are needed to help ESL students. An ESL teacher should be certified to teach ESL classes.

My child’s public school refuses to enroll my child in an ESL program. What should I do? +

Talk to an attorney. Under Federal law, no public (that includes charters) school can deny equal educational opportunity because of a person’s race, color, sex, or national origin. A public school cannot refuse to help a child overcome language barriers that interfere with equal participation in instruction.

How do schools decide if there is a language barrier or if a child has a learning disability? +

The school first interviews the parents.


The parents have a right to have an interpreter present. During the interview, the school can learn about the child’s developmental history and whether the child may have already been found to have a learning disability. The school then tests the child by using a nonverbal IQ test or using tests in the child’s first language. These tests help the school decided if a lack of English proficiency is affecting their progress in school or whether there is a learning disability that needs to be addressed.

What happens if my child is not found to have a learning disability? +

There are a series of special tests that are given to ESL students yearly that look at their listening, speaking, reading, and writing proficiency. Each area has different levels of proficiency. These tests also help schools decide if there may be a learning disability that has been overlooked before or if special accommodations should be made. 


If your school is not testing your child yearly and he or she is enrolled in ESL classes you should talk with Families Helping Families or a lawyer as soon as possible to help keep the child from falling behind.

What happens if my child in ESL classes is found to be eligible for Special Education? +

Your child should keep getting ESL services but also special services or accommodations to help your child with disabilities.


Children in Special Education should be reevaluated every 3 years unless you and the school agree otherwise. The child can get reevaluated up to once a year; however, it can be even more frequent if you and the school agree that it should be done more often. Make sure your request for reevaluation is in writing and make sure it is done at least every 3 years.

Last Review and Update: Jan 05, 2021