States address need for interpreters in education

While the need for professional interpreters in settings like courtrooms, healthcare institutions, and conferences has long been established, interpreters have been somewhat absent in the U.S. education system.

According to the American Association of Interpreters and Translators in Education, interpreters tend to work in fields outside of education, largely due to the fact that school settings offer lower wages and schedule interpreters for variable hours. As a result, schools often work with untrained bilingual individuals to serve as “community liaisons,” as Spectrum News recently reported. 

That could be changing soon though, with states like Washington and Illinois introducing legislation to bring professional interpreters into the school system.

“Parents who do not speak English should not be barred from the discussion regarding their child’s education,” said Illinois state senator Karina Villa, who’s spearheading an Illinois bill that would require access to interpreters at school meetings where parents with limited English proficiency are present. “With this bill, we will now be able to accommodate non-English speaking families.”

Under Villa’s proposed legislation, parents who are deaf or do not speak English, would have expanded access to interpreters during meetings with school officials — currently, the state only requires the presence of interpreters at meetings regarding Individualized Education Plans. 

In the state of Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee recently passed a law that would develop a set of standards for educational interpreters working in the state’s school system. The law intends to professionalize school interpreters and mitigate language barriers between educators and families by setting procedures that would make it simpler for families to request interpreters and translators.

Proponents of such measures argue that family engagement is critical to a child’s success. Historically, parents with limited English proficiency have struggled to effectively engage themselves with their children’s education due to language barriers that the schools are not properly equipped to handle.

“Parents have a right to know what kinds of decisions are being made regarding their children’s education, and more importantly, be able to actively engage in these discussions and present any questions or complaints,” Villa said.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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