A policy passed unanimously by the school board earlier this year mandates improved translation and interpretation services. But advocates and school officials warned parents at a meeting this week that it’s not enough to know their rights. They must insist upon them.
The scope of the SFUSD Translation and Interpretation Policy 5023 includes, but is not limited to, parent meetings, board and committee meetings, school-wide events, and district-wide events.
“It is really important that especially the working class who historically have been marginalized and maybe haven’t felt like they have a voice in our schools have spaces to really hold the district accountable,” said school board member Matt Alexander, who introduced the new policy.
Alexander spoke on Dec. 12 at a gathering of mostly monolingual Spanish speakers at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in the Mission. It was organized by Innovate Public Schools, a nonprofit that has, in the past, pushed for charter school expansion.
The event was aimed at presenting the new policy to dozens of parents and making them aware of their rights.
- The right to written materials translated and provided to parents before meetings. That includes such documents as the Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
- Translators at all IEP meetings, parent teacher conferences, student suspension, expulsion meetings and board meetings
- If interpretation is requested 72 hours before any other meeting, it must be provided.
- The languages included in the policy are Arabic, Chinese, Filipino, Samoan, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
Already it was clear that the translation policy would need parent monitoring.
“This is all new to me,” said Araceli Arellano in Spanish. She shared her bewilderment after the youngest of her three children, 5-year-old Sophie, was diagnosed to qualify for special education, as well as an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
“The assessment process was confusing for me. I would have liked to receive the report in writing and in Spanish of her assessment, and I would also have liked that they send me the documents before the meeting and not the day of the meeting. It is difficult for parents to find out your child’s diagnosis during the first IEP meeting.”
Arellano felt similarly lost when looking for a suitable kindergarten for Sophie. She waited for the translation of documents for a long time, and for her, the whole process of school-hunting felt “intimidating.”
“We want quality and qualified interpreters,” she said. “We want to see equity in this process.”
More than half of the English learners in San Francisco public schools are Spanish speakers, 26 percent speak Cantonese and 22 percent other languages.
Several other parents raised questions around the quality of interpretations, and wanted to have more certified interpreters familiar with education made available to them at these events that they see as crucial to their children’s futures.
Alexander admitted that the resources currently at the school district’s disposal are far from adequate to meet these needs. “I think in San Francisco we often have this sense that we’re already there,” he said. “I think the district is actually doing a decent job. But I think we need to be doing better.”