As the cultural makeup of the US population changes, so does the number of individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP). The LEP population has been steadily rising since the 1980s. One area in which it is most critical that the needs of the LEP population are met is educational settings.
Ten percent of the K-12 population in US schools are considered LEP, and that number does not take into account the LEP parents of the K-12 population. It is the responsibility of public schools to take steps to ensure that English Language Learners (ELL) and their parents can participate in all education programs and services.
There are many different ways that teaching the ELL population can be approached. Some schools use pull-out models in which the student leaves the classroom, while others prefer inclusion methods with the ELL specialist coming into the classroom. Each community, each school, and each student are different.
Not only does where immigrants come from change over time, but so does where they end up. It used to be that big cities were the most popular destinations, but today many immigrants travel to new destinations, often in suburban and rural areas. As some schools experience an influx of ELL students for the first time, they are struggling with meeting needs.
Other schools might be doing well serving Spanish-speaking ELL students, but struggling with those who speak other languages. While Spanish continues to be the most common language spoken by ELL students, accounting for 3.8 million, other languages such as Chinese, Vietnamese, and Arabic are becoming prevalent in certain parts of the country.
What’s clear across the U.S. is that ELL programs need assistance. Thirty-two states report not having enough teachers for their ELL program, and ELL students lag behind their peers in academic achievement.
Schools are not only mandated to provide services to ELL students. They are also required to ensure that parents of ELL students can take part in all education programs and services. Strong relationships between schools and parents has been shown to be an indicator of student success. That’s why it’s critical that non-English-speaking parents are able to participate in their child’s education.
There are many ways schools can work to include LEP parents. Interpreters should be provided for parent-teacher conferences. Commonly-used materials such as report cards, permission slips, parent handbooks, and after-school-club pamphlets should also be made available in the parent’s native language.
Serving Deaf Parents
An often-overlooked community, Deaf students and parents have the same needs and rights as ELL families. More than 75% of Deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) students are mainstreamed in public school programs. American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters need to be available for these students.
As with ELL families, Deaf and hard-of-hearing parents should have access to interpreters for parent-teacher conferences. When a face-to-face interpreter is not feasible, video-remote interpretation services can serve as a viable alternative. Schools and school systems should also provide interpreters for other education-related events such as school board meetings.
Serving Parents of Special Education Students
Under the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act, students with learning problems qualify for a special learning plan called an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Deaf students qualify for IEPs, but there are many other reasons an IEP might be necessary. Learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, visual impairment, and physical disabilities are all reasons a student might need an IEP.
Parents play a huge role in the development of their child’s IEP. They can provide the most critical input regarding their child’s needs. It is of paramount importance that LEP and Deaf parents are able to fully participate in IEP meetings. These meetings can often get heated and be emotionally charged. No parent should feel confused or upset due to a language barrier.
Where to Find Help for Interpretation
All teachers and schools want their students to succeed. All parents want to be a part of their child’s education and know what’s happening in the classroom. Communication barriers should never keep these things from happening for anyone. Students and parents deserve and are entitled to interpretation services that help ensure student success.
Whether you need something as small as a field trip permission slip translated into another language, or something as large as providing an ASL interpreter for a parent at their child’s IEP meeting, Language People can help. We can provide face-to-face interpreters, video-remote services, as well as document translations when you need them. At Language People, we’re making the world a better place, one conversation at a time.