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District sued over translation services for families of students with disabilities

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School District of Philadelphia is facing a lawsuit alleging that thousands of children are denied special education services due to a lack of translation and interpretation services for families that don’t speak English.

The class action suit was filed in federal court on Friday. Plaintiffs are represented by the Education Law Center, the Public Interest Law Center, and the private firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.

District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said it is the District’s practice not to comment on active legal cases.

The complaint says that the District repeatedly fails to translate documents in a timely manner so that parents can participate in meetings concerning their child’s Individual Education Plan, or IEP.

In addition, the District does not provide adequate interpretation services at the meetings.

"We brought this case because we know that hundreds of families are impacted by this issue," said ELC’s Maura McInerney. "The problem has persisted for many years and is not being addressed. Federal disability and civil rights laws mandate meaningful participation by parents in the special education process and this is critical to positive outcomes for children. After years of trying to address this issue with the District, we felt that the matter needed to be addressed by the courts."

According to the plaintiffs, 1,500 English language learners receive special education; 1,887 students with IEPs come from homes where the primary language is not English.

One of the lead plaintiffs, Barbara Galarza, speaks only Spanish. Her 10th-grade daughter has ADHD and a mood disorder.

She said in a statement that she belatedly learned that her son had been diagnosed with an intellectual disability and did not receive the psychologist’s report or other vital documents in Spanish.

“The school wouldn’t give me information in Spanish; they didn’t seem to care,” Galarza said through an interpreter. “I couldn’t understand what the District was telling me. They did not help me or my child so that she could do well in school.”

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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