Greater Equality in Education through Language Services

While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn’t specifically state that schools must offer interpretation and translation services to parents — or any special supports for their non-English-speaking children – it does bar discrimination based on national origin in any program or activity receiving federal dollars. This has come in to play in dozens of civil rights cases against school districts and educators, wherein students and their parents receive less than equal access to education or information because of their English language comprehension.

However, many factors can affect a school district’s ability to provide consistent language services to students and their families or caretakers. Changing budget discrepancies, updates to federal requirements and enforcement, and shifting annual enrollment numbers mean schools are often unprepared for the changing needs of non-English speakers.

This not only puts quality education on the line but also leaves school districts at risk of losing crucial education funding in an already uncertain time for federal and state-wide budgeting.

According to a 2008 report by the National Education Association, when schools, parents, and families work in partnership to support students, then those students succeed at a higher level.

Unfortunately, those partnerships go both ways. When parents who speak no or limited English are excluded from detailed, coherent communications about their children, even high-performing English Language Learner (ELL) students are at risk of falling behind their peers.

Getting ahead of education translation requirements

While complaints alleging discrimination against English language learners or their parents have been steadily increasing over time, many school districts are making proactive efforts to provide translation and interpretation services before issues occur.

In a 2016 article for The Hechinger Report a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education — writer Tara García Mathewson found that students in the Syracuse City School District spoke more than 70 different languages.

Although the district is one of the poorest in the US, in 2010, to better serve its growing immigrant population, the Syracuse City School District began to hire “nationality workers” to help immigrant parents communicate with English-speaking teachers and district officials.

Parents and educators in Atlanta also worked to get ahead of the curve for their ELL students. 

In 2019, the Atlanta Board of Education directed all of the city’s public schools to provide high-quality language services “so that those communications are equal to the communications provided in English,” in order to “enable parents and guardians to participate in school-based as well as district-wide programs and activities.”

These schools, and many others, are making strides to meet and exceed education translation requirements. Maintaining equity in opportunity for students is a legal requirement, but also in every student’s best interest. 

Looking to make changes to your district’s translation policies? TB Translation’s experts are here to provide the technical requirements and cultural intricacies needed to build bridges, from administration to the lunch line.