English-Language Learners

Parents of ELLs With Disabilities Sue Philadelphia Schools

By Corey Mitchell — August 27, 2015 2 min read
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Two Pennsylvania legal advocacy groups and a Philadelphia-based law firm have filed a class action lawsuit against the Philadelphia schools, alleging that thousands of children are denied adequate special education services because their parents don’t speak or read English.

Filed by the Public Interest Law Center, the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, and the law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath on Friday, the complaint alleges that the district has refused to sufficiently interpret or provide parents with translated documents in a timely manner, preventing them from participating in meetings and making informed decisions regarding educational placements and services.

The lead plaintiff in the case is Barbara Galarza, the mother of a high school student with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Galarza, who does not read or speak English, says that when district staff members discussed her child’s special education evaluations and individualized education program (IEP) with her, they refused to provide her with the documents in Spanish, her native language, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit also claims that Galarza was not able to review her child’s IEPs or monitor her child’s progress, as essential documentation was provided solely in English.

Education Week could not immediately reach district spokesperson Fernando Gallard for comment. The Philadelphia Public School Notebook first reported the lawsuit.

“For the hundreds of non-English-speaking parents in Philadelphia who have children with disabilities, their participation is unfairly denied because the school district has failed in its duty to translate essential planning documents,” Chanda A. Miller, a Drinker Biddle & Reath attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

The school district’s English-Language-Learners programming handbook indicates that: “Communication with the parents of English-language learners being considered for special education placement must be clear and presented in a mode and language they understand.”

The complaints ask the court to order the Philadelphia schools to “provide complete and timely translations of special education documents; to notify parents that they are entitled to such documents in their native language; to provide sufficient oral interpretation services for key encounters pertaining to special education services; and to provide bilingual evaluations for all students who need them.”

Language Access Complaint

See also

Education Department to Study ELLs with Disabilities

Evaluating ELLs for Special Needs a Challenge

Missouri Seeks to Aid ELLs Now Overlooked: Those With Disabilities

Bilingual Students with Disabilities Get Special Help

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.