The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education is pumping out “Dear Colleague” letters at a breakneck pace. On January 7th, the subject was ELLs and LEPs—English Language Learner students and Limited English Proficient parents. The letter, which comes from both the DOE and the Department of Justice, is detailed and lengthy, but definitely worth careful study by someone in your district.
For purposes of today’s Dawg Bone, we will just emphasize one part of the letter—the part about ensuring meaningful communication with parents. Here’s a key quote: “School districts and SEAs have an obligation to ensure meaningful communication with LEP parents in a language they can understand and to adequately notify LEP parents of information about any program, service, or activity of a school district or SEA that is called to the attention of non-LEP parents. At the school and district levels, this essential information includes but is not limited to information regarding: language assistance programs, special education and related services, IEP meetings, grievance procedures, notices of nondiscrimination, student discipline policies and procedures, registration and enrollment, report cards, requests for parent permission for student participation in district or school activities, parent-teacher conferences, parent handbooks, gifted and talented programs, magnet and charter schools, and any other school and program choice options.”
Take a careful look at that lengthy list of documents that comprise “essential information.” Keep in mind that the legal duty here is to “ensure meaningful communication.” This is not a passive standard. It calls for “affirmative steps to address language barriers.”
One final note: the Letter cautions against relying solely on a web based automated translation feature: “Utilization of such services is appropriate only if the translated document accurately conveys the meaning of the source document, including accurately translating technical vocabulary. The Departments caution against the use of web-based automated translations; translations that are inaccurate are inconsistent with the school district’s obligation to communicate effectively with LEP parents. Thus, to ensure that essential information has been accurately translated and conveys the meaning of the source document, the school district would need to have a machine translation reviewed, and edited as needed, by an individual qualified to do so.”
DAWG BONE: THE TRANSLATION INDUSTRY IS SURE TO BE A GROWTH BUSINESS FOR THE NEXT FEW DECADES.