School Translation Services

Federal Lawsuit Alleges School District Fails to
Provide Adequate Foreign Language Translation
and Interpretation Services to
Students with Disabilities

School Translation and Interpreting Services for Limited English Students with Disabilities

Educational interpreter services, along with scientific translation services and academic document translation services, play an important role in helping English-speaking teachers communicate with non-English-speaking parents.  In T.R. v. School District of Philadelphia, plaintiffs filed a class action matter in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleging that the School District of Philadelphia (“School District”) failed to provide adequate translation an interpretation services to disabled students and parents with limited English skills. The plaintiffs claimed that the School District’s failure to provide these services deprived the students and their parents the ability to participate in the Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) and violated several laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), the Equal Education Opportunities Act, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (An “IEP” is a written statement for a child with a disability that is developed by the student, the parents, and the school district in order to enhance that child’s educational experience.) Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that as of November 2013, there were approximately 25,900 families in the district whose primary home language was something other than English, that some 19,760 families had requested documents in a language besides English, and that 1,887 students with IEPs lived in a home where a language other than English was spoken. The plaintiffs further alleged that during the 2012-2013 school year, only 487 special education documents were orally interpreted and that the school’s translation and interpretation center had never completely translated an IEP. The plaintiffs also alleged that although the school district had attempted to provide some interpretation services during IEP team meetings, the interpretation efforts had been incomplete and sporadic. Moreover, the school district did not evaluate students with limited English proficiency in their native language.

According to the IDEA, any state that receives federal education funding must provide children in that state with a “free appropriate public education” consisting of instruction specifically designed to meet the needs of handicapped children. According to D.S v. Byonne Bd. of Educ., 602 F.3d. 553, 557 (3rd. Cir. 2010), the IDEA “contemplates that school district will achieve these goals by designing and administering a program of individualized instruction for each special education student set forth in an [IEP].” Before conducting an evaluation for an IEP, the school must obtain written consent from the parents. Federal regulations require that the parent be informed of all of the relevant information in his or her native language or through another means of communication. In the same way, students who are suspected of having a disability must also be evaluated in their native language or, if applicable, another mode of communication most likely to yield accurate information regarding the child’s knowledge and abilities.

In response to the Plaintiffs’ lawsuit, the School District filed a Motion to Dismiss on the grounds that: 1) the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the class members because they failed to exhaust their administrative remedies; 2) under IDEA, the decision as to which documents to translate must be made on a case by case basis; 3) the complaint does not allege that the school district discriminated against students because of their disability; and 4) the complaint fails to state a claim for relief under the Equal Education Opportunities Act and Title VI because the complaint does not properly allege discrimination based on the plaintiffs’ national origin.

The court rejected all of the school district’s arguments and denied its motion to dismiss. In ruling on the school district’s motion, the court held that because the plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged systemic violations of the IDEA, the plaintiffs were excused from exhausting their administrative remedies. The court also held that the complaint sufficiently alleged that the school district’s policy of “inaction” with regards to translating documents appeared to violate the IDEA. Finally, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the complaint did not adequately allege discrimination based on national origin because discrimination based on limited English proficiency is not the same as discrimination based on national origin.

The court ruled that according to Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.W. 563 (1974), the U.S. Supreme Court held that language-based discrimination can constitute an actionable form of national origin discrimination.

In addition to the foregoing, it is important to note the existence of an IDEA provision entitled “Child Find.” Although neither the parties nor the court addressed this provision of the IDEA specifically, this federal mandate requires all States to develop and implement a practical method of determining which children with disabilities are receiving special education and related services and which children are not. (See 20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(3).) Child Find participants often have language barriers as well as disabilities.

Contact our multilingual document translation service to request on-site language interpreters for Child Find evaluations and IEP meetings in more than 100 foreign languages, including Indonesian, Mandinka, Swahili, Russian, Lao, Hebrew, Malay, French, Mandarin, Arabic.

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