On Friday June 23, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the Board of Education of the City of Chicago agreed to a settlement with a group of parents who filed a federal lawsuit after being denied interpreting and translation services.
Going forward, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) must provide certified interpreters to parents with limited English proficiency at all Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. Parents can also request the interpreter not be a member of the IEP team, which is made up of teachers, administrators, and other school personnel. In addition, CPS agreed to hire 10 full-time certified interpreters/translators, five of which may only serve as interpreters.
Approximately 21,000 students attending the Chicago Public School system live in a household where English is not the native language. The board 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.
The parents were represented, on a pro bono basis, by the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis as well as Equip for Equality, a private, nonprofit organization advocating for the rights of people with disabilities in Illinois. IEP meetings are required by federal law for every student with a disability.
“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 and CEO of Equip for Equality. “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.”
The school system 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.
Olga Pribyl, VP of Equip for Equality’s Special Ed Rights Clinic, added, “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.”
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 a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a group of parents.
“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 are expected to have a 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 Chicago and throughout Illinois.