Big News for Language Access for Parents of Chicago Students with Disabilities
Access Living friends and allies,
This week, we have exciting news for families of students with disabilities. The announcement below is also in Spanish, Polish and Chinese at this link. We hope this will lead to greater supports for families whose first language is other than English.
Read the full announcement below.
Landmark Agreement Mandates Language Interpretation And Translation Services For Non-English-Speaking Parents Of Students With Disabilities In Chicago Public Schools
CHICAGO – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the Board of Education of the City of Chicago have entered into settlement agreements with a group of parents who filed a federal lawsuit after being excluded from meaningfully participating in their children’s special education planning due to being denied proper interpreters and translators. Equip for Equality and Kirkland & Ellis, on a pro bono basis, represented the parents.
“For far too long, parents have been excluded from being full partners in developing their children’s special education program because Chicago Public Schools was not providing proper interpreters or translated documents,” said Zena Naiditch, President & CEO of Equip for Equality, a non-profit group designated as the federally mandated state Protection & Advocacy agency for Illinois and counsel representing the plaintiffs. “The settlement agreements will ensure that parents can be engaged in and advocate for their children’s education and services regardless of their primary language.”
Under the agreement, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will provide certified interpreters to parents with limited English proficiency at all Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. These meetings are required by federal law for every student with a disability. Parents can also request the interpreter not be a member of the IEP team, which is made up of teachers, school personnel and administrators. In addition, CPS agreed to hire 10 full-time certified interpreters/translators, five of which may only serve as interpreters.
CPS will also provide translated versions of a student’s IEP documents within 30 school days of the meeting, including progress reports, evaluations, recommendations, and other documents that are critical for parents so they make informed educational decisions for their children.
Under the agreement, CPS’ compliance will be monitored for two school years. CPS will report on the provision of interpretation and translation services after each semester for ISBE and Equip for Equality to review.
ISBE has agreed to propose regulations that ensure schools hire qualified interpreters who have completed a certification program. ISBE will also create a list of key documents that schools must translate for parents, as well as serve an oversight role during the two years of monitoring.
“Imagine going to a meeting with a group of people you can’t understand and being given legal documents that you can’t read. The settlement will end that because all parents will finally be able to fully participate in their children’s education planning no matter what language they speak at home,” said Olga Pribyl, Vice President of Equip for Equality’s Special Education Rights Clinic.
Pribyl was first alerted to the issue when a parent called the legal advocacy group for advice after their seventh grader with autism was removed from school. Because the parents did not have a certified interpreter in meetings and did not receive documents in a language they could read, they were unaware that their son was removed from his school until the student’s father went to the school to pick up his son’s list of school supplies.
After discovering that many more families had similar experiences, Equip for Equality and Kirkland & Ellis filed a lawsuit against ISBE and CPS on behalf of a group of parents. Approximately 21,000 CPS students live in a household where English is not the native language.
“We want all children to have a chance at a good education and this settlement helps us get closer to that goal,” said Donna Welch, Kirkland litigation partner, who led this matter pro bono. “Translation services and interpreters will definitely help bridge the language gap for parents and administrators as they formulate a successful education plan for these students.”
The settlement agreements will have systemic impact. In addition to the group of plaintiffs, the agreements mandate that the critical communication services be made available to all parents with children in special education in CPS and throughout Illinois.
Equip for Equality
Equip for Equality is a private, nonprofit organization designated in 1985 by the Governor of Illinois to administer the federally mandated Protection & Advocacy System for safeguarding the rights of people with disabilities in Illinois. For more information, visit www.equipforequality.org.
Kirkland and Ellis
Kirkland & Ellis is an international law firm with approximately 3,000 attorneys representing clients in private equity, M&A and other complex corporate transactions, litigation and dispute resolution/arbitration, restructuring, and intellectual property matters. The Firm operates from offices in 18 cities around the world: Austin, Beijing, Boston, Brussels, Chicago, Dallas, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, Paris, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Shanghai and Washington, D.C.