Several parents of disabled children are suing New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) for failure to provide language and translation assistance, resulting in their inability to stay informed on academics and even medical emergencies.
Marcela Hernandez, mother of a 17-year old autistic student claims in the suit that on one occasion, after requesting a translator, a staff member callously asked, “Why don’t you learn English?’ according to a Gothamist report.
Legal Services NYC is representing the parents in the lawsuit that alleges their requests for interpretation help have illegally been ignored or mishandled.
“This lawsuit challenges the longstanding and systemic failure of the New York City Department of Education to provide limited English proficient parents of New York City public school students with the opportunity to participate fully and meaningfully in their children’s educations,” the civil rights suit states.
According to the DOE, more than 70,000 children in the city who are disabled speak a language at home other than English. A 2015 study by the New York Immigration Coalition found that nearly half of all public school students speak other languages at home and that there were “serious barriers” for those parents needing interpretation help.
In 2008, New York City enacted a law requiring all agencies to provide language services for at least the top six languages spoken within the city’s population, Gothamist reports.
The embattled DOE, led by Chancellor Richard Carranza, is in the midst of other lawsuits and controversies involving hostile racial environments and toxic retraining programs that are focused on raising up certain ethnicities over others.
“How would I know my daughter is receiving the therapy she needs?” asked one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Veronica Garcia. “I’m her mother. I need to know what is going on.” She spoke to Gothamist through a translator, saying that she had asked several times for assistance in understanding a report she receives on her daughter’s progress called an IEP (Individualized Education Programs). IEPs are mandated legal documents that federal law requires parents to receive and agree to in writing, otherwise known as informed consent.
The disconnects in translation services have often extended to urgent or emergency situations.
During the 2017-18 school year, Garcia said she received multiple English-language calls from the nurse about her daughter, who has asthma. This happened in spite of the fact that the DOE has a contract with Language Line, a service providing on-demand phone interpretation in over 180 languages. Garcia asked why a Spanish-speaker was not calling her, and she said she was told that the nurse did not know how to use the telephone interpreter, according to the lawsuit.
Another parent, Hui Qin Liu, a Mandarin speaker, received a call from her daughter’s bus driver saying her 8-year-old daughter had had a seizure and was being taken to the emergency room, according to the suit. Liu was only able to decipher the name of the hospital. On a separate occasion, her daughter came home with bite marks on her body. After submitting a written request for an explanation, she received a phone call in English. Again, she learned very little due to the lack of an interpreter.
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