When students who are learning English also need services for learning disabilities
Oct. 21, 2016 – Philadelphia Public School Notebook – by Maura McInerney
In 1985, the Education Law Center (ELC) learned about a 16-year-old Cambodian refugee in the School District of Philadelphia who had never been identified as needing special education services due to his limited English proficiency.
This student became the named plaintiff in ELC’s 1986 class-action suit, Y.S. et al. v. School District of Philadelphia, which challenged the quality of instruction and services provided to non-English-speaking students and the failure to provide interpretation and translation services that hampered parent participation in students’ education. The case spanned more than 25 years and resulted in multiple court orders, stipulations, and remedial plans that significantly improved many District policies and practices.
In 2015, ELC, the Public Interest Law Center, and Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP filed a class-action lawsuit, T.R. et.al. v. School District of Philadelphia, challenging the failure to provide sufficient translation and interpretation services to ensure the meaningful participation of parents with limited English proficiency in the special education process and to ensure equal educational opportunities for their children with disabilities. This case is pending in federal court.
These cases highlight the important nexus between civil rights laws requiring school districts to eliminate language barriers for English learners and ensure equal educational opportunities and laws protecting the right of all students with disabilities to receive a free appropriate public education.