DRO, ABLE praise agreement requiring Columbus City Schools to provide language translation services to parents with limited English proficiency

October 19, 2016 / limited English proficiency

Thanks to an administrative complaint filed by Disability Rights Ohio and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality in January 2015, a new agreement between the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Columbus City Schools will provide parents and guardians with limited English proficiency (LEP) with the language services they need to better advocate for their children. The school district has agreed to create a process for identifying LEP parents and notifying them of the availability of free language assistance for school programs and activities. Parents only have to be limited in one English skill - speaking, reading, writing or comprehending - and the district must accept a parent's assertion that he or she needs language assistance without asking for additional verification.

A comprehensive plan must be submitted to OCR by December 12, 2016, which must include a written plan for annual evaluation of the effectiveness of the program. OCR will conduct reviews to ensure that the plan is being followed, and the case will not be closed until OCR is satisfied that the district has fulfilled the terms of the agreement.

"This plan should make a significant difference in the lives of parents with LEP in the Columbus City Schools, because now they will have the ability to meaningfully participate in the education of their children," says Kristin Hildebrant, Senior Attorney at Disability Rights Ohio. "Although our initial complaint was on behalf of Spanish-speaking families, the agreement is much broader, encompassing other languages. Not only is the district required to provide qualified interpreters at meetings, they must also have critical written documents translated into the language of each frequently encountered LEP parent group."

This includes special education documents such as Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) and evaluations; disciplinary notices and procedures; registration, enrollment and emergency forms; report cards; notices of parent-teacher conferences and meetings; parent handbooks and fact sheets; documentation of academic opportunities and services; and the initial request for information about the parents' preferred language.

"Parent participation in the education of their child is essential to success in school," says Robert Cole, Managing Attorney at ABLE. "This plan will greatly improve the ability of parents to participate in a meaningful way in the education of their children by requiring that parents be provided information, in their native language, about important educational events involving their children."

"Special education laws under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Title VI of The Civil Rights Act are intended to protect the rights of students with disabilities and include parents in the special education process," says Marbella Cáceres, Statewide Cultural Coordinator for the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities. "The Ohio Coalition is delighted that Disability Rights Ohio and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality have sought to honor the spirit of these laws by having tirelessly and effectively advocated on behalf of parents with language barriers, in order that these parents also have equal opportunities to provide input and meaningfully participate in their children's education and transition plans."

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