Law Center & Partners File to Reopen Language Access Case

The Law Center, Education Law Center and Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP have filed to reopen a 1985 class action lawsuit to ensure immigrant and refugee parents and students receive access to language services. An estimated 14,000 students in Philadelphia schools are members of families whose primary language is not English. Even though it is mandated by federal law and recent settlement agreements, the School District of Philadelphia systemically fails to provide the interpretation and translation services parents with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) need to meaningfully participate in their child’s education.

In 1985 a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Asian-language-speaking students and their parents sought to ensure individuals with LEP received appropriate translation and interpretation services from the District. More than 25 years after the original lawsuit was filed and after numerous legal agreements, the District continues to fail to provide appropriate services. Advocates who attend IEP meetings with parents regularly see that no interpreters are provided and the District’s own statistics show that language services are dramatically underutilized.

Y.S., a named plaintiff in the original case, was a 16-year-old student from Cambodia who did not speak English. He was misidentified as needing special education services after school officials tested him with an evaluation designed for native-English speakers. He was then labeled as mentally retarded and inappropriately isolated in a special education classroom where he fell further behind. The school provided no translation or interpretation services to his parents during this process.

In spite of years of compliance monitoring and intervention, the District has persisted in its failure to provide the language support services mandated by federal law and settlement agreements. Parents continue to meet language obstacles that hinder them from participating in school meetings, conversations with their children’s teachers and counselors, and other school activities.

In the April 2013, the Law Center and its partners filed a Motion to Reopen the case citing the District’s failure since to meet the requirements of a 2010 Stipulation Amendment to provide translation and interpretation services during IEP meetings and in special education documents. Click here for more information on this case.