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Translation Services In Public Schools

Education Brandon Choquette on Sep 17, 2014 1:30:00 PM

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For years, education law in the United States has said that public school districts must communicate with parents in their native languages "to the extent practicable." And the U.S. Department of Justice interprets the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as saying that school districts must notify parents who have limited English skills of "school activities that are brought to the attention of other parents." That may involve written or oral translation/interpretation of notices.

In Education Week, Mary Ann Zehr reported that some education advocacy groups have been persistent in pushing school districts to communicate effectively with immigrant parents who speak little or no English. Among those groups have been Advocates For Children of New York; Californians Together in Long Beach, California; and the Somerville, Massachusetts-based Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy.

iTi looked at three public school system websites to see how they described their own translation and interpretation services. Here are some interesting aspects of what we found.

Translation and Interpretation Unit In New York City

The New York City Department of Education has a Translation and Interpretation Unit. Its purpose is to improve the way the NYC Department of Education communicates and engages with limited-English proficient parents of New York City school children. The Translation and Interpretation Unit provides New York City public schools and offices with an internal resource for accessing written translation, on-site interpretation and over-the-phone-interpretation services. 

The unit also spearheads the Department of Education’s efforts related to language access, including, training and awareness of language access requirements and available resources, monitoring compliance and oversight of earmarked, school-based translation funds.  Within the New York City unit, schools and parents can request translation services for Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu.

Albuquerque Makes Finding Translated Documents Easy

On the translation services page of the Translation and Interpretation Services section of the Albuquerque Public Schools website, you can easily browse the translated documents. It’s also easy to request a translation.  Website visitors can view the translated documents by language or by category. The languages this New Mexico school system offers are Albanian, Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese. The categories are administration, health, special education, student, family and community support and summer programs.

 

This portion of the Albuquerque website is under the Language and Cultural Equity Department (LCE). That department provides leadership, technical assistance and professional resources to schools for alternative language services of students with linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds.

For teachers in the Albuquerque Public School system, LCE provides tuition reimbursement. Teachers can be reimbursed for completing bilingual or ESL (English as a Second Language) studies.  Schools can receive help to meet language proficiency test responsibilities. There’s a test specialist (English and Spanish) and a resource teacher who trains school staff on administering and scoring ACCESS for ELLs and the Spanish LAS.

Arlington Schools Translate Five Languages

In Virginia, the Arlington Public Schools provide written language translation and oral interpretation services from and into English and the five main languages spoken by children who attend the Arlington schools. Those languages are Arabic, Amharic, Bengali, Mongolian and Spanish. Services are available during:

  • Parent-teacher conferences

  • Special education conferences

  • School meetings

  • Other school functions (e.g., translation services for senior staff, professional development for school interpreters and translators, publication of English-Spanish resources for translators and interpreters and more).

The Arlington Public Schools website says the purpose for offering language services is to facilitate and increase meaningful communication and access to school programs, curriculum, activities and educational opportunities.  Arlington makes every effort to provide services in any language requested. School parents, staff and students all can access the interpretation and translation services at no cost. Services can be requested directly from the Language Services Registration Center (LSRC) by telephone, fax, email or in person.

More Need For Translation Services

On the critical side, you can hear stories and read reports that indicate more needs to be done to provide high quality translation services.  For example, we read about a Boston school that used students to interpret a guidance counselor's advice for post-high school planning for ELLs. Funding’s another issue. Budgets can have a great impact on the quality of a school system’s translation services. Some school districts cut back on the comprehensiveness of translation and interpretation services when budgets are tight.

At least one of the advocacy groups Mary Ann Zehr mentioned, Advocates for Children of New York, is still active.  The group works for children who are at greatest risk for school-based discrimination and/or academic failure. That includes children with immigrant or English Language Learner status.

If you’re interested in the type and quality of translation services in the school systems in your area, you might start by checking out the websites of local education advocacy groups.