With the advent of legislation like the Every Student Succeeds Act, No Child Left Behind, and other regulations that strengthen the involvement of parents in their children’s education, school districts have a growing need for successful language access programs.
At the core of the need for language solutions is the principle of ensuring meaningful access to educational programs. Federal legislation, like Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin, which today includes language. Other statutes touching on equal opportunity for children (and their parents) to participate in the educational process include the Equal Educational Opportunity Act, Title III of No Child Left Behind Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Mandates to provide equal access to the benefits of public education are a common theme.
The main driver for the growth of language services in schools is the Limited English Proficient (LEP) population around the country. In the United States, where 1 in 5 individuals now speak a language other than English at home, schools encounter significant language barriers. English language learners (ELL) comprised 9.3% (or 4.5 million students) in 2013-2014. In California that number reached 22.7%! These statistics don’t account for LEP parents. Communicating with parents in their preferred language is critical to their full understanding and participation in their children’s education.
Strengthening Language Access in Schools
The legislation around the need for multilingual communication in schools rests on a central premise: the failure of schools to communicate with parents in a language they understand effectively prevents them from participating in their child’s education. This denial of meaningful access directly impacts the quality of education, which in turn impacts the children’s future, and the school’s performance scores. This has a negative long-term impact on society and the national economy.
In 2015, following civil rights complaints, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education released guidance highlighting the responsibilities of school districts to provide language assistance to LEP parents and guardians. These were some key takeaways:
- Schools must communicate with LEP parents in a language they understand about any program, service or activity that is also communicated to English speaking parents. This includes a broad range of activities from student registration and enrollment, parent-teacher conferences, language access programs, student discipline, special education, and many other common activities.
- Schools must provide language assistance to LEP parents even if their child is proficient in English.
- Schools must use appropriate and competent resources— either internal or external-- for interpreting or translating. That means that employing students, siblings, friends or untrained bilingual staff to provide language services may not be appropriate. (Complaints filed with the DOJ have noted that incomprehensible translations left parents confused. Unqualified bilingual persons often do not have the technical skills to interpret or translate accurately).
- School districts should ensure competency of their linguists, starting with the relevant vocabulary and situation at hand, as well as understanding the role of the interpreter, ethical standards and the need for confidentiality. Being bilingual itself is not sufficient to competently interpret conversations or translate documents.
Developing an effective multilingual communication program for schools involves significant work on the part of school districts, but the challenge is not unmanageable. Many districts capitalize on the use of existing qualified bilingual staff and call upon competent external resources to fill gaps.
LanguageLine Solutions for Schools
Whether the immediate need is for interpreting, translation or evaluating the linguistic skills of bilingual staff, LanguageLine Solutions can help. To build awareness among district staff and ensure optimal use of services, we support service roll-out of language services with guides, videos and other tools to maximize district resources. “Interpretation Services Available” signage promotes language access services at no cost, promoting communication with district personnel and setting a positive tone for students and parents.
Find out more about how we can help your district strengthen its ability to communicate with parents and students, regardless of language. Contact us or download our at-a glance Language Access Solutions for Schools.