Translating special ed plans to meet family language needs

Translating special ed plans to meet family language needs

(Calif.) School districts would have to translate special education plans into a family’s native language under a bill by a lawmaker who waited two years to receive her own daughter’s documentation in her native Spanish.

AB 2091 by Democratic Assemblywoman Patty Lopez would require districts, if necessary, to hire “qualified interpreters” to provide an Individualized Education Plan and related documentation translated into the native language of a student’s parents within 30 days of an IEP meeting.

“For a long time I’ve been waiting to have my kid’s IEP translated,” Assemblywoman Patty Lopez told members of the lower house’s Education Committee during a hearing on her bill earlier this month.

“Sometimes not all the parents know the technical words that they use in an IEP and sometimes when the parents want to make a recommendation, we should have the full understanding of what is going to be our recommendation,” she added. “I requested [my daughter’s] IEP in writing and I know this is a process but, still, until last year – it took two years to make the translation – I didn’t receive it and that is not right. It’s not fair for the kids.”

The legislation, according to the author, is an attempt to shore up federal law, which clearly states that districts must do whatever is necessary to make sure parents of special education students understand the IEP proceedings. Though the law mentions providing interpreters for the meeting itself, nowhere is there any requirement for schools to translate the document that records the services and supports agreed upon for that student.

According to Martha Zaragosa-Diaz, a legislative advocate for the California Association for Bilingual Education and Californians Together, 9.8 percent, or 700,000, of the state’s six million students are identified as having a disability. Of these, almost 28 percent are English learners, she said, adding that the parents of these students “more than likely will not be proficient English speakers.”

A daunting task for even English-speaking parents, the IEP process involves at least annual meetings with administrators and staff of the student’s school to outline an educational pathway that takes into account the pupil’s special needs. Goals and ways to achieve them are documented, and parents must agree and sign off on the IEP for it to be valid.

Although interpreters may be available during IEP meetings, some terms, services or processes may not be accurately translated, Zaragosa-Diaz said, and as a result, non-English speaking parents often do not fully understand what is recommended for their child nor are they informed about other options or services that may be available to their special needs child.

AB 2091 “seeks to meaningfully engage” non-English speaking parents by requiring accurate translation of the IEP itself, as well as any other documents relative to its creation, supporters said.

The bill would also require the California Department of Education to provide, on its web site, standardized special education forms written in the state’s top 10 spoken languages. An Assembly analysis of AB 2091 found that other states with far fewer non-English speaking students provided standard special education forms translated into the top 10 languages on their education department’s web site.

The legislation passed out of the Assembly’s Education Committee on a 7-0 non-partisan vote and is now in the Appropriations Committee, which has estimated its costs to be in the tens of millions of dollars – taking into account document translation costs of $30 to $80 per page. An analysis using California Department of Education data said there are 1.4 million English learners in state and approximately 14 percent of these students qualify for special education.

“If 10 percent of English learners that qualify for special education requested documents, statewide costs would exceed $5 million,” the analysis read.

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