Atlanta Schools Ban Students, Siblings, Friends from Translating and Interpreting for Parents

While other parts of the US public sector have shown signs of dialing down on providing free language access, at least one State Board of Education has unanimously approved a policy to provide “high-quality communication support services” free of charge to families of students who speak a language at home other than English.

The Atlanta Board of Education in a newly approved Board Policy on Language Access basically directed all Atlanta Public Schools to provide high-quality language services to target families “so that those communications are equal to the communications provided in English.”

The policy document dated August 5, 2019, further stated that such language services must be made “available free of charge to all district parents, staff and students.”

According to an August 27, 2019 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), roughly 3,640 students or “about 7% of the district’s 52,000 students live in a home where the language spoken is not English.” The most common language spoken in those homes is Spanish, followed by Chinese, French, Arabic, and Portuguese, the same report said.

Prior to the approval of the new policy, Atlanta Public Schools had already increased their 2019 language services budget by USD 191,203 “to hire additional full-time staff members and pay for more assistance for families who don’t speak English,” the AJC reported back in July.

Minimum Translation Requirements

The new policy requires Atlanta Public Schools to, “at a minimum,” provide written translation of “critical district documents (paper and online), in the top 5 languages of the district,” just as they do for English-speaking parents.

Additionally, translation of school-based documents (excluding classroom-level newsletters, syllabi, etc.) must be provided “from and to English, in Spanish and in any other language deemed appropriate by the school.”

Where providing written translations is not practical, “documents will be orally translated” for parents with limited English proficiency (LEP), and parents can respond in either English or their own language.

Credentialed Interpreters

The Atlanta Board of Education also directed the state’s public schools to use only interpreters who are “approved by and meet all credential and training requirements established by the Office of ESOL & World Languages.” (The office is an arm of the Atlanta Public Schools system that provides “opportunities for cultural and linguistic enrichment” and “envisions a future of biliteracy in which all students will develop and maintain proficiency in at least two languages.”)

The new policy goes as far as requiring that any interpreter used by the school should be “a neutral party” and “not omit or editorialize on the content of the conversation they are translating.”

Where necessary, schools are required to provide interpretation services for meetings of the Atlanta Board of Education, parent conferences, student disciplinary hearings, among other activities.

Finally, according to the new policy, “Schools may not rely on or ask students, siblings, friends or untrained school staff to translate or interpret for parents.”The Office of ESOL & World Languages responded to over 3,600 online requests for translation and interpretation from June 2018 to May 2019, according to the AJC.