Translation in Education: Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)

A group of people working with a student in an Individualized Education ProgramNumerous federal and state laws and executive orders have been implemented over the years to ensure that Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals receive equal access to information and services. These include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Title VI regulations, prohibiting discrimination based on national origin, and Executive Order 13166 issued in 2000. Many individual federal programs, states, and local governments have implemented their own provisions requiring language services for LEP individuals.

One of the most important areas in which LEP individuals may need foreign language translation assistance is in relation to their children’s education. It can be overwhelming, to say the least, for LEP parents of school-aged children to navigate the U.S. education system. From understanding the numerous rules and regulations outlined in Parent & Student Handbooks to permission slips for field trips, disciplinary notices, and health information issued by schools, there is a large amount of information to digest. Without foreign language translation and interpretation support for these materials, many LEP parents and their children could get lost in the shuffle.

Now, imagine that not only are you an LEP parent dealing with a brand-new education system, but your child also happens to need special education support services. This can be a monumental challenge, even for parents who are native speakers of English.

When it comes to providing the proper support and educational framework for a child with special needs, the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) serves as the foundational document. Once a child receives a special education evaluation, and IEP is created by the various stakeholders and serves as a map that lays out the special education instruction, support, and services that the child will need to be successful in school.

Title VI, referenced above, requires that all “vital documents” be translated for LEP individuals. This includes not only the initial IEP document but language support (such as interpretation during IEP-related meetings) and follow-up documentation throughout the program for LEP parents.

While this basic right to “meaningful access” has been upheld by the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education, there have been problems when it comes to implementation. For example, Title VI does not specify which languages must be translated or the time frame in which translation services must be provided, other than in a “timely” manner. Also, many LEP parents do not even know that they have the right to request these translated materials. Much of these logistical considerations have been left up to states and local school districts to implement.

In New York City, for example, a pilot program has been implemented to centralize the translation process to meet the needs of the approximately 77,000 students for which a language other than English is spoken. In California, roughly 28% of the state’s 700,000 students identified as having a disability are English language learners and California lawmakers have been working to implement requirements for IEP translations to be completed within 30 days of an IEP meeting. The State of Maryland has also implemented legislation requiring the translation of IEP documentation within 30 days and provides extensive IEP-related information on its Department of Education website in the 15 most common foreign languages spoken in the state.

However, as more states and school districts adopt these types of requirements, they have encountered problems in meeting the large volume of requests within the specified time frames as well as issues with funding. In California, for example, it has been estimated that if only 10 percent of English learners requested special education documents to be translated, statewide translation costs would exceed $5 million.

Affordable Language Services (ALS) has experience working with local school districts to overcome some of these challenges in translating education documents, including IEPs, and providing interpretation support for meetings. To address the issues of turnaround time and cost, ALS has also implemented the use of Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) technology to both make the translation process more efficient and keep costs down by leveraging the large amount of repetitive text contained in IEP forms.

ALS also utilizes designated translation teams – which include subject matter experts — to handle these types of translations. This is vital in achieving the goal of providing LEP parents with “meaningful access” since IEP documents are complex and often include difficult-to-understand terminology. ALS’ translation teams can ensure that the IEP translations are provided at an appropriate reading level to be understood.

Finally, one of the key ways in which school districts can also assist in the process is to provide IEP documents to be translated in an editable format, such as Microsoft Word, rather than the PDF format that is often digitally-generated from school district Intranet platforms. By making this kind of small adjustment to the format of the documents provided, they can speed up the translation process and keep costs down through the implementation of CAT technology noted above and not incur additional formatting and re-formatting charges.