Classroom Interpreting

Parents - What does special education law say about educational interpreters?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA PL 108-446) is the federal law that mandates special education services for qualified individuals with disabilities. In order to qualify for special education, the individual must have a qualifying disability and need specialized instruction. The purpose of special education is to “ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living” (IDEA Sec.1400 (d). Eligible students receive special education services at no cost to them or their families.

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As this relates to educational interpreters, it must be noted that not every deaf or hard of hearing student who needs communication access accommodation via an educational interpreter will require specialized instruction or special education services. In these cases, a different law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 04, covers the interpreting accommodation. This civil rights law is designed to protect individuals from discrimination. A “504 Plan” can outline the accommodations necessary in school for a student with a disability (including deafness) but parents should realize that this law lacks many features of the IDEA such as:

Special Considerations for Deaf or Hard of Hearing Students

The IDEA states that in the development, review and revision of an IEP, the team must consider special factors as follows:

(iv) Consider the communication needs of the child, and in the case of the child who is deaf or hard of hearing, consider the language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communication with peers and professionals in the child’s language and communication mode, academic level, and full range of needs including opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode, and (v) Consider whether the child requires assistive communication devices and services.” IDEA Sec. 1414 (d) (3) (B)

This language underscores the significance of communication in school, and the unique, individual needs specific to each deaf or hard of hearing student. It’s important to note that the federal statute does not proscribe the language or mode of communication of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, but acknowledges the need to consider his/her individual communication needs, particularly as they relate to opportunities for direct communication with peers and direct instruction from professionals in whatever mode the child uses to communicate. This is extremely important as parents and IEP teams assign or hire educational interpreter, based on the child’s mode of communication. Specifically:

“Interpreting services, as used with respect to children who are deaf or hard of hearing, includes oral transliteration services, cued language transliteration services, and sign language interpreting services.” IDEA Sec. 300.34 (b) (4)

If the student is an ASL communicator, then the educational interpreter will need to be proficient in American Sign Language. If the student uses Signed Exact English (SEE), then the interpreter must be qualified in SEE. If the child is not a signer but relies on oral communication, it is appropriate to request an oral interpreter. Cued Speech transliterators are appropriate for students using Cued Speech, and so on.

Educational Interpreters as Related Service Providers

Educational interpreting is considered a Related Service in the IDEA, which means it’s a support required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education. When the IEP team (parents included) determines that the student will need an educational interpreter, this accommodation will be recorded on the IEP as a Related Service. The number of interpreting hours per day must be specified in writing. As with all IEP supports and services, there is no charge for Related Services. Because educational interpreting is a Related Service, an educational interpreter is a member of the IEP team for any deaf or hard of hearing student receiving this service. As such, an interpreter can provide important information about the student’s communication style, needs, and access issues in the classroom.

Interpreters for Extracurricular Events

Any school-sponsored activity, including lunchtime, recess, before and/or after school programs, athletic practices and games, field trips, pep assemblies, school plays, and other events that are offered by the school or school district, are subject to the student’s IEP accommodations. This means the student’s IEP can specify that interpreters must be provided by the school at no cost to the student or family so he/she has communication access in those settings. Many schools have policies in place that require older students to formally request an interpreter if they plan to attend or participate in school-sponsored extracurricular events. This is good training for life beyond high school where self-advocacy and planning go hand in hand to assure good communication access.

Red Flags and Procedural Safeguards

Assuring that the educational interpreter is qualified to provide services in the student’s mode and/or method of communication deserves diligent attention from parents. Many school districts attempt to economize on costs by providing one interpreter using one form of signed communication for several students - all of whom may be using different modes or methods of communication. It’s also very common to find interpreters who are not qualified, certified or proficient in the needed mode or method of communication. Even in states with minimum requirements, school districts can often contract unqualified individuals as an emergency hire.

Failing to provide appropriate and qualified interpreters often stems from a lack of expertise in working with students who have hearing loss. In other cases it reflects an unwillingness to commit to quality communication access for these students at the administrative level where interpreter hiring gets done. Effective advocacy is critical for parents to rectify situations like this. Every parent should know that the spirit and letter of the IDEA law supports their right to advocate for solutions to these problems. Legal remedies are available to families as described in Section 1415, the Procedural Safeguards of the IDEA, which assure parents the right to:

Interpreters for Deaf Parents at School

Schools must provide interpreters at IEP meetings for parents who are deaf, but not because the IDEA requires it (effective with the 2004 Reauthorization of this law). The laws that apply here would be Section 504 of the Rehab Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or a Title VI complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. If parents with disabilities feel that school districts have not acted sufficiently to help them understand IEP proceedings, (for example, not providing an interpreter at IEP meetings), then they would have to seek the legal remedies available to them from the appropriate Civil Rights law. This is a new regulation as of the 2004 Reauthorization of the IDEA, which eliminated 34 CFR 300.345 (e) which had previously required schools to provide interpreters as an IDEA mandate.