When parents of school-age children in the United States are limited English proficient (LEP), it can be challenging to manage their children’s education and communicate with school teachers and administration. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 51% of immigrant parents with children under 18 in the United States are LEP (nearly 7.5 million people). 13% of all parents, whether immigrant or not, with children under 18 are LEP (8.2 million people).
LEP individuals do not speak English as their primary language and have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on national origin, which has been determined by the courts also to include the languages spoken and understood by individuals. Executive Order 13166 issued in 2000 further declares that LEP people should have meaningful access to federally conducted and federally funded programs and activities.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Title I, Sec. 1112(e)(4) states that local education agencies (LEAs) must provide information to parents in an understandable and uniform format and, to the extent practicable, in a language that the parent can understand.
Combined, these laws create a responsibility for public schools and their administrators to provide students with equal access to educational opportunities regardless of their language ability—including accurate translations.
What are some examples of translated documents schools must provide?
For all federal government agencies and private companies receiving federal assistance or grants, written materials routinely provided in English should be provided in regularly encountered languages other than English.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has defined several general categories of vital documents for all purposes: applications, consent, and complaint forms; notices of rights and disciplinary action; notices advising LEP persons of the availability of free language assistance; prison rule books; written tests that do not assess English language competency, but rather competency for a particular license, job, or skill for which English competency is not required; and letters or notices that require a response from the beneficiary or client.
Specifically for school and school districts, the DOJ has outlined the following examples of documents that schools and districts must provide accurate translations for LEP parents and guardians:
- Registration and enrollment in school and school programs
- Language assistance programs
- Report cards
- Student discipline policies and procedures
- Special education and related services, and meetings to discuss special education
- Parent-teacher conferences
- Grievance procedures and notices of nondiscrimination
- Parent handbooks
- Information related to gifted and talented programs
- Information about magnet and charter schools
- Requests for parent permission for student participation in school activities
The DOJ states explicitly that schools may not request or rely upon other students, siblings, friends, or untrained school staff to translate or interpret for parents and guardians. Professional translators provide accurate translations that consider nuances of various cultures and specific language semantics to ensure optimal communication.
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