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Special Populations​​

Foreign Exchange Stude​​nts

Foreign exchange students come to our country to experience the American culture and at the same time provide our students with the opportunity to learn from other cultures. The Pennsylvania Department of Education supports the educational and cultural values of these programs and encourages Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to participate and support these culturally enriching programs.

Districts are required to determine if foreign exchange students are English learners using the state EL identification procedure. If foreign exchange students are identified as ELs, then they must:

  • Be placed with the districts language instruction educational program (LIEP) as appropriate based on their language proficiency,
  • Be reported in PIMS as active ELs,
  • Participate in the annual state English language proficiency assessment (ACCESS for ELLs®), and
  • Participate in the PSSA/Keystone Exams. 

Scores from English assessments other than WIDA assessments may only be used as the basis for identification decisions if the score descriptors clearly define performance at or above the WIDA performance definition for level 5. If this performance definition by the other assessment is not clear, then screening using a WIDA instrument is necessary.

The home language survey for foreign exchange students does not need to be completed by the parent in the home country. It can be completed by the student or the host family. 

English Language Learners in Special Education

The following guidance is taken from the Basic Education Circular (​BEC), Educating English Learners

Some ELs may have a disability and qualify for special education services. This could be determined at the time of enrollment if a student arrives with a valid individualized education program (IEP) or at some point during the school year.

All procedures for the screening, evaluation, IEP, and the provision of services and/or instruction must be in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act  (IDEA) and PA Chapter 14  Regulations.

This section only describes those aspects of policy for ELs with disabilities that are not contained in special education regulations, policies, and guidance.

See the Department's Bureau of Special Education website for access to all related regulations, policies, guidance, and FAQs.

Right to dua​​l services

LIEP and special education programming are not mutually exclusive. Special education services do not replace English language development services or vice versa. ELs must be afforded all supports, resources, and programming for which they are eligible. In other words, ELs are eligible for special education services if they meet IEP eligibility criteria and, conversely, students with a disability are eligible for English language development programming if they are identified as an ELs.


There is no waiting period for making a disability determination for an EL.

A child must not be determined to be a child with a disability if the determinant factor for that finding is lack of English proficiency.

Programming considerati​​ons

English language development instruction or English as a second language is part of an EL's general academic program and must be included in an academic program for ELs with disabilities. This content must be delivered by a properly trained and certified ESL teacher either directly or by a special education teacher who is working in collaboration with an ESL teacher.

The IEP team, which must include an ESL professional, must take into account the language needs of an EL with a disability when considering program design and placement.


An EL who has a disability must meet the state's definition of English proficient in order to be reclassified as a former EL. This definition and the provisions for reclassification can be found in the Reclassification, Monitoring, and Re-designation of ELs page of the PDE EL website. 

The PDE's Bureau of Special Education and Bureau of Teaching and Learning have developed published guidance documents and other resources that address the needs o<Hf ELs with disabilities. You can browse this library at the PaTTAN publications site.