Resolution Agreement Confirms Right to Translation and Interpretation for Parents of Students with Disabilities in NYC Schools
In response to a complaint filed by Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), the United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) have entered into a voluntary resolution agreement to ensure the provision and monitoring of translation and interpretation services to parents of New York City students with disabilities whose home language is not English. The agreement, signed in December 2019, came seven years after AFC and NYLPI filed the initial complaint with OCR concerning NYC DOE’s inadequate services.
The resolution agreement confirms the rights of Limited English Proficient (LEP) parents, under local, state and federal civil rights laws, to translation and interpretation services related to the special education services their children receive. In addition to acknowledging that LEP parents have a right to receive translations of special education documents – such as Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), Section 504 Plans and NYC DOE-funded evaluations – the resolution agreement is significant because it also states that the NYC DOE is responsible for informing families of their right to request these services, tracking translation and interpretation requests, and creating a centralized system for providing translated documents to families in all school districts in New York City.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need for a centralized, effective system for providing and tracking translation and interpretation to parents of students with disabilities in the New York City public schools. Seven weeks after the closing of schools, there are LEP families and parents of English Language Learners (ELLs) who are still struggling to connect their children to remote learning and to special education services. Many of these families are not able to communicate with their schools unless the NYC DOE provides interpreters and translated materials.
In response to AFC and NYPLI’s complaint, NYC DOE launched a pilot in 2018 for the centralized translation of IEPs, upon request by parents, in three of the City’s school districts. The resolution agreement states that this IEP translation pilot will inform the creation of a centralized system for all special education document translations. The IEP translation pilot remains in effect in Districts 9 and 24 and in special education District 75.
“The agreement is not as strong as we had hoped, but it starts to move the school system in the right direction,” said Rita Rodriguez-Engberg, Director of AFC’s Immigrant Students’ Rights Project. “It’s important for parents to know that they currently have a right to translations of special education documents, and they can make the request through their children’s individual schools. In light of the COVID-19 school closures and the active role parents are playing in their children’s remote education, it is more important than ever for parents to understand their children’s IEPs and special education needs.”
“We are grateful that after years of neglect, the NYC DOE has finally committed to providing parents who are Limited English Proficient with access to the document translation and meeting interpretation necessary to meaningfully participate in their children’s education,” said Ruth Lowenkron, Director of the Disability Justice Program at NYLPI. “We will vigilantly monitor the agreement to ensure that the NYC DOE honors its commitment, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
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