Disability Rights Groups Reach Agreement Over Language Accessibility

writing on a chalkboard "Espanol"

by Andy Jones
October 30, 2016

Disability Rights Ohio and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality announced a settlement agreement [PDF] October 19 with the state’s largest school district to ensure students and their parents and guardians receive necessary language accessibility services.

"This plan should make a significant difference in the lives of parents with (limited English proficiency) in the Columbus City Schools, because now they will have the ability to meaningfully participate in the education of their children," said Kristin Hildebrant, senior attorney at Disability Rights Ohio, in a news release. "Although our initial complaint was on behalf of Spanish-speaking families, the agreement is much broader, encompassing other languages.

“Not only is the district required to provide qualified interpreters at meetings, they must also have critical written documents translated into the language of each frequently encountered LEP parent group.”

Title IV of the Civil Rights Act requires school districts to “adequately notify" national origin-minority group parents of school programs and activities, as well as provide “meaningful access” to all its services for people with LEP.

The agreement was prompted by an administrative complaint, filed by the two advocacy groups in January 2015, with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Columbus City School has until December 2016 to submit a plan to the OCR. Students must be limited in just one English skill - speaking, reading, writing or comprehending - to be eligible for enhanced services.

Of particular importance for disability advocates, all special education-related documents, disciplinary notices and procedures and information on other services must be in the parent’s preferred language.

"Special education laws under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Title VI of The Civil Rights Act are intended to protect the rights of students with disabilities and include parents in the special education process," said Marbella Cáceres, statewide cultural coordinator for the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities, in the news release. "The Ohio Coalition is delighted that Disability Rights Ohio and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality have sought to honor the spirit of these laws by having tirelessly and effectively advocated on behalf of parents with language barriers, in order that these parents also have equal opportunities to provide input and meaningfully participate in their children's education and transition plans."

Disability Rights Ohio and Disability Rights Washington are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Ohio and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.