Translation Services for School Districts

Translators and Interpreters for Children of LEP Parents

We have previously discussed the importance of school translation services, including those involved in school litigation. The statutory obligation of school districts to provide translation services to children with disabilities, whose parents are Limited English Proficient (LEP), continues to be an issue contested in court. Most recently, the federal United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois heard claims against the Illinois State Board of Education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Title VI of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 (Title VI).

Federal Court Holds That Failure to Provide Translation and Interpretation Services Could Constitute Intentional Discrimination Based on National Origin

In H.P. v. Board of Education of City of Chicago, 385 F. Supp. 3d 623 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ill. 2019), students and their parents raised a putative class action against the Illinois State Board of Education and several administrators claiming that the defendants systematically failed to provide students with disabilities, whose parents were Limited English Proficient (LEP), with a free appropriate public education (FAPE), by failing to provide parents with sufficient translations of documents and competent interpretation services during the individualized education program (IEP). The plaintiffs claimed that this failure violated the IDEA and Title VI.

IEP Translation and Interpretation Services Required

The IDEA requires the Chicago Public School System (CPS) to provide FAPE to qualified children with disabilities in accordance with their individualized education program (IEP). The IEP is an educational plan for the disabled child, prepared by CPS officials, teachers, and the child’s parents. Under the federal law, parents must be afforded a meaningful participation in the IEP process and must consent for the child to receive special education services and appropriate evaluations. “Consent” requires that “[t]he parent has been fully informed of all information relevant to the activity for which consent is sought, in his or her native language, or through another mode of communication.” Additionally, all notices to parents must be “in the native language of the parents, unless it clearly is not feasible to do so.” Likewise, CPS “must take whatever action is necessary to ensure that the parent understands the proceedings of the IEP Team meeting, including arranging for an interpreter for parents with deafness or whose native language is other than English.”

The Need for Academic Translation and Interpretation Services

The CPS conducts a Home Language Survey of all CPS student households to determine the primary language used in the household and to identify which parents will require an interpreter. According to the CPS, there were 52,093 students who had IEPs. Forty-two percent of those students had LEP parents. Of the households with LEP parents, “[o]ver 19,000 . . . communicated in Spanish, over 300 in Polish, almost 300 in Arabic, and almost 200 in Chinese.” Despite having this information, and notwithstanding federal law requiring translation and interpretation services, the CPS has no policy or formal practice for providing the interpretation and document translation services that federal law requires.

• It has no policy for providing written translations of IEP process documents to LEP parents;
• It does not provide independent interpreters for LEP parents at IEP and special education meetings;
• It uses ad hoc CPS personnel as interpreters, with no evaluation of competency or proficiency in languages;
• It has no training or guidelines for interpretation standards, resulting in incomplete, inaccurate, editorialized, and ineffective translations.

The defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims, asserting that the plaintiffs failed to state actionable claims under the IDEA and Title VI.

Claims for Relief under the IDEA

Notwithstanding procedural flaws in the IEP process, for CPS to deny plaintiffs a FAPE, as required under the IDEA, the procedural deficiencies must: “ (1) impede[] the student’s right to a FAPE; (2) ‘significantly impede[] the parents’ opportunity to participate in the decision[-]making process regarding the provision of a [FAPE] to the parents’ child,’ or (3) ‘cause[] a deprivation of educational benefits.’”

In H.P., the defendants claimed that there was sufficient evidence to show that the parents were not deprived of meaningful participation in the IEP process and that the students obtained some substantive relief and modifications to their IEPs by their parents’ participation. However, the court held that the plaintiff parents sufficiently alleged that they experienced significant difficulties and delays throughout the process because of a lack of translated documents and competent interpreters. Although delays are not necessarily sufficient to prove a violation of the IDEA, the court held that the plaintiffs’ claims are sufficient to state a plausible claim under the IDEA that their participation was impeded and caused a deprivation of benefits. Therefore, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the IDEA claims.

Claims of National Origin Discrimination under Title VI

The plaintiffs also claimed that, by failing to translate vital documents and provide competent interpreters for LEP parents of disabled children, CPS engaged in “language-based, and therefore national origin, discrimination prohibited by Title VI.” The plaintiffs alleged that the IEP process deprived them of the opportunity to participate to the same extent as parents who read and speak English proficiently.

To assert a private cause of action under Title VI, the plaintiffs must allege intentional discrimination, not simply a disparate impact. The defendants claimed that any failure to provide translation and interpretation services only potentially “disproportionately impact[ed] parents whose country of national origin does not speak English as a native language.” However, the court held that the plaintiffs’ assertion that CPS knows of the LEP parents’ “need for competent interpretation and translation services but nonetheless intentionally and systematically fails to provide these services” is sufficient to state a plausible cause of action under Title VI. Accordingly, the court denied the defendants motion to dismiss the Title VI claims and allowed the case to proceed to develop a more complete factual record from which the court can assess the plaintiffs’ claims.

All Language Alliance, Inc. is available to provide document translation and interpretation services for IEP proceedings in any language and English. Call us at 303-470-9555 to determine the services you need. You can also email us from our website at www.languagealliance.com to request certified translation and interpretation services for any language, including Mandarin, Polish, Cantonese, Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Nepali, Somali, Arabic, Amharic, Oromo.

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