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Spanish Speakers Demand Translation for Special Education Meetings

A group of Spanish-speaking parents in Ohio filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department this week, saying that their children's school districts are discriminating against them by not providing interpreters and translated documents during special education meetings

The complaint, filed on the parents' behalf by Disability Rights Ohio in Columbus and Advocates for Basic Legal Equity in Toledo, named seven districts in the complaint: Columbus, Toledo, Dublin City, Groveport-Madison, South-Western, Westerville and Whitehall. The Ohio Department of Education's office for exceptional children was also named in the complaint. 

In all of the districts, the Jan. 27 complaint contends, parents and children with limited English proficiency have been kept from meaningfully participating in individualized education program meetings because of a lack of interpreters or documents that have not been translated or have been translated incorrectly. When interpreters are provided, they are often unable to interpret correctly, the complaint says. Some parents say that they've had to get their children to translate for them, and that they have missed when IEPs have changed. 

Earlier this month, the Department of Education's office for civil rights released guidance to schools on English-language learners, part of which spoke specifically to school requirements to make interpreters or translators available for parents. From the guidance:  

[States] and school districts must provide language assistance to [limited-English proficient] parents effectively with appropriate, competent staff—or appropriate and competent outside resources. It is not sufficient for the staff merely to be bilingual. For example, some bilingual staff and community volunteers may be able to communicate directly with [limited-English proficient] parents in a different language, but not be competent to interpret in and out of English (e.g., consecutive or simultaneous interpreting), or to translate documents. School districts should ensure that interpreters and translators have knowledge in both languages of any specialized terms or concepts to be used in the communication at issue. In addition, school districts should ensure that interpreters and translators are trained on the role of an interpreter and translator, the ethics of interpreting and translating, and the need to maintain confidentiality.

The complaint alleges further that because the parents aren't able to contribute to IEP meetings, that the districts are violating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It asks that the districts be forced to make changes immediately. 

A story on the parents' complaint in The Columbus Dispatch said that most districts declined to comment because they said they had not seen the complaint, but several told the newspaper that they provide translated documents and interpretation routinely.

"When we're aware that these services are needed, they are provided," Westerville spokesman Greg Viebranz told the Dispatch

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