A Latino parents’ group says their federal and civil rights to translation and interpretation services have been denied for over 20 years by a western Massachusetts school district, so they are suing both state and school officials.

The Aug. 21, 2017 federal lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, names Holyoke Public Schools officials and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as defendants, according to Associated Press Legal Affairs writer Denise Lavoie. The suit alleges that the district failed to “consistently translate school documents and provide interpreters for parents who don’t speak English fluently, preventing them from fully participating in their children’s education,” reporter James Vaznis wrote that day in the Boston Globe.

This includes “translation services to cover things like notices of meetings, academic evaluations, specialized education plans for students with disabilities, disciplinary notices, student and parent handbooks and more,” according to an Aug. 21 article by Lauren Camera in U.S. News & World Report. “The school system also failed to provide trained interpreters for meetings between parents and school officials, the lawsuit contends.

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“Under federal law, school districts that receive federal funding must ensure that parents with limited English-language proficiency have access to information about their children’s education programs to the same extent as English-speaking parents – specifically, they must be provided written translation and oral interpretation services,” Camera wrote.

In addition, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was cited for allegedly knowing “Holyoke school officials were denying parents interpretation services but never ensured school officials took effective corrective actions, despite four oversight reports conducted by the state between 1996 and 2013, all of which detailed systemic failures to comply with federal regulations and civil rights laws,” Camera documented.

Vaznis wrote that the issues “probably go well beyond Holyoke, noting that state education officials have faulted more than 100 school systems in recent years for failing to provide these kinds of services after reviewing student files and other documents.”

In 2015, Holyoke schools were placed under state receivership yet the practice continues, Lavoie wrote, quoting an attorney with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Inc., one of two groups representing Padres Latinos de las Escuelas de Springfield y Holyoke.

Camera reported that “80 percent of the system’s 5,300 students are Hispanic, 44 percent speak a first language other than English, and 23 percent have a disability, according to its profile on the Massachusetts education department website.”

Professional companies like Argo Translation stand ready to provide school districts and state education departments with a variety of services, allowing educators to offer targeted communication to families and students, to build effective, positive relationships.

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