Language Access

Effective Language Access: The Challenge & Opportunity for Schools

With the advent of legislation such as 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.

Mandates to provide equal access to the benefits of education are a common theme. At the core of language access plans in education, 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 ActTitle III of No Child Left Behind Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The main driver for the need for language services in schools is the Limited English Proficient(LEP) population. In the United States, where 1 in 5 individuals now speak a language other than English at home, schools encounter significant language barriers. Unfortunately, most 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. In fact, Illinois specifically has Admin Code 226 which states that parents also have the right to an interpreter.

Let’s examine why this is so important.

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. If access is denied then it may directly impact the quality of education, which in turn impacts the children’s future, and the school’s performance scores.

In 2015, 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.
  • 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. This also becomes challenging for districts with large diversity in language because the staff is often pulled from their regular duties in order to interpret for parents and students.

Common Scenarios Where You Can Be Proactive

  • Forms – hours and hours go into IEP meetings and Special Ed needs yet, the documented outcomes are often not provided in a language the parent can comprehend. Proper translations of not just the forms, but also the solutions would make this far more comprehensive for the parent and students.
  • Meetings– when parents are called in for in-person meetings to go over progress or critical communications about their child, relying on an untrained bilingual speaker creates potential liability. A professional interpreter that has the necessary experience in the educational setting should be utilized in order to accurately communicate to the parent what the school is trying to convey. Whether the immediate need is for interpreting, translation or evaluating the linguistic skills of bilingual staff, Metaphrasis can help.

Find out more about how we can help your district strengthen its ability to communicate with parents and students, regardless of language.  Let’s get in touch!