Colorado school district reaches settlement on translation services for students

(The Center Square) – A Colorado school district will take actions to overcome language barriers with non-English speaking students and parents under a settlement reached with the Department of…

(The Center Square) – A Colorado school district will take actions to overcome language barriers with non-English speaking students and parents under a settlement reached with the Department of Justice.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado began investigating Cherry Creek School District after receiving multiple complaints during the last three years for failing “to take appropriate action to address language barriers of families with limited English proficiency in its enrollment process and student disciplinary proceedings…” according to the settlement. Students were allegedly denied equal access to the district’s instructional programs.

The agreement states it’s an alternative to avoid litigation but admitted no violations of federal regulations.

Located in Arapahoe County, Cherry Creek School District’s website states more than 150 languages are spoken by its 53,000 students. It reported 21.9% of its students are Hispanic, 8.9% are Asian and 8.5% are two or more races.

“We worked collaboratively with the Department of Justice to strengthen our translations systems to ensure we are meeting the needs of our families with limited English proficiency,” Lauren Snell, public information officer for the Cherry Creek Schools, wrote in an email to The Center Square. “Equity is a core value of the Cherry Creek School District, and it is a priority for the district to find ways to continuously improve how we serve families who speak multiple languages.”

The Department of Justice reviewed the district’s policies, practices and procedures for providing translation and interpretation services to parents, according to the settlement. The review stated concerns about the district’s obligation to provide translation services as outlined in the Equal Education Opportunities Act of 1974.

“No parent should be left in the dark about their child’s education,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “Open and effective communication between schools and parents, including parents with limited English proficiency, is essential to safeguarding students’ equal access to educational opportunities.”

Complaints alleged the district didn’t provide interpreters or effective language assistance when enrolling children in schools and when participating in expulsion hearings or other disciplinary proceedings.

The district agreed to identify parents with limited English proficiency who are seeking to enroll their children in school, document their preferred language and provide them with assistance. Letters involving suspension and expulsion will be translated by the district into the preferred language of parents with limited English proficiency under the settlement. Language assistance also will be provided by the district during disciplinary proceedings that could result in suspension or expulsion.

The district also agreed to administer surveys and hold listening sessions in more than a dozen languages to better understand the communication needs of parents with limited English language abilities.

“Parents with limited English proficiency face barriers to understanding how public schools work,” U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan for the District of Colorado said in a statement. “This agreement is intended to ensure that the Cherry Creek School District implements policies and practices to enable all parents in the district to participate meaningfully in their children’s education. We urge all school districts in Colorado to review their practices to ensure that they are complying with their obligations to provide language assistance services to parents with limited English proficiency.”