Anyone who has a child with special needs knows that navigating the public school system to get your child the attention and services they need can be daunting at best. That’s if you speak English and have no impairments of your own.
If you don’t speak English, cannot see or hear or have another communication-impacting disability, making sure your child receives the help they need to reach their full potential can seem impossible.
A new Washington State law passed earlier this summer takes aim at a big problem: finding and providing interpreters who speak both the language of families with special needs and the language of education in a timely manner.
The law, Ch. 107, Laws of 2022, seeks to increase the number of interpreters available to schools and families by developing a training and credentialing program for those working in educational settings – similar to what is done in medical services. It also confirms the entitlement to high-quality interpreters and support services at no cost for students and families facing language barriers.
Although both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already codify the rights of non-English speakers and those with disabilities to interpreters and other communications aids, finding interpreters with the right skills when you need them can be a challenge for parents and schools.
The law passed this year focuses on spoken and signed language interpretation, and both lawmakers and other supporters say they are confident it will increase student achievement, student esteem and school engagement (by both students and parents).
The new law stipulates that by October 1, each Washington public school needs to adopt policies and procedures to develop and implement an effective language access program meeting their language needs. Families and interpreters must be key collaborators in plan development. Plans must be put into practice by the 2023-24 school year, with one exception. Districts with fewer than 1,000 students and lower than 10 percent ESL enrollment.
The new law also requires that every public school have a language access liaison or coordinator – a person who will track interpreter requests, ensure that data is collected and reported regarding which languages are spoken, and get feedback on interpreter access and effectiveness. To collect that information, schools must regularly check in with students, parents and interpreters about how well services are being provided.