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Millions of English-Learner Students to Benefit from New Rules

New Education Department guidelines aim to help the nearly 5 million English Learner students across the country.

Education advocates are lauding the release of new Department of Education guidelines, meant to ensure that English Learner (EL) students are able to “meaningfully participate” in school. School districts and states will now be legally required to provide resources for these students and could possibly face legal consequences for not doing so.

“EL students are now enrolled in nearly three out of every four public schools in the nation, they constitute nine percent of all public school students, and their numbers are steadily increasing,” the Department of Education and the Department of Justice wrote in a roll-out letter to educators this month. “It is crucial to the future of our nation that these students, and all students, have equal access to a high quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential.”

"Southeast Asian American students and families are often at a disadvantage in a way that isn’t apparent to many teachers and school administrators,” Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) told NBC News. “The students often have to act as their own advocates throughout their entire educational experience."

Dinh says EL students are more likely to have parents who weren't fluent in English either, and who had greater trouble navigating the education system. She says even shrinking budgets allow for the translation of key school documents, like registration forms and handbooks for college prep.

“Having school counselors and interpreters working hand in hand to help students and families understand what resources are available at the school and what to expect for their child each school year would be a helpful first step,” says Dinh.