School systems must take the necessary steps to give parents the opportunity to understand the proceedings at an IEP team meeting. This includes…
“…arranging for an interpreter for parents with deafness or whose native language is other than English.” [§300.322(e)]
Although this requirement is not new in IDEA, it is an important obligation for public agencies and of tremendous importance to parents who are deaf or whose native language is not English.
On hearing loss and deafness | According to the U.S. Census Bureau (Wang, 2005), an estimated 7.8 million people age 15 and older have difficulty hearing a normal conversation and approximately 1 million cannot hear (p. 3). How many of these are parents of school-aged children with disabilities is difficult to say (only limited statistics exist), but the impact of deafness on a parent’s ability to understand and participate in an IEP meeting needs no statistics to imagine.
On limited English proficiency | The impact of limited English proficiency on parental understanding of proceedings at IEP meetings is similarly easy to intuit. More data, however, are available to document the number of children whose parents have a native language other than English and might require an interpreter in an IEP meeting.
By far, the most prevalent non-English language spoken by children in our schools (K-12) is Spanish (77%), followed by Vietnamese, Hmong, Korean, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Cantonese, Tagalog, Russian, Navajo, and Khmer (Cambodian), none of which accounts for more than 3% of the limited English proficient (LEP) child population (Hopstock & Stevenson, 2003).
More than 350,000 of LEP children receive special education services (Zehler, Fleischman, Hopstock, Stephenson, Pendzick, & Sapru, 2003).
What should parents do if they need an interpreter to understand the proceedings of an IEP meeting?
Parents should inform the school system ahead of time that they will need an interpreter for the meeting. Parents who need an interpreter may wish to check with their school district to find out how much time is needed to arrange for an interpreter to be present at the IEP meeting. By letting the school system know before the meeting occurs, the school will be able to make arrangements to have an interpreter present.
Hopstock, P.J., & Stephenson, T.G. (2003). Descriptive study of services to LEP children and LEP children with disabilities: Native languages of LEP children (Special Topic Report #1). Arlington, VA: Development Associates, Inc.
Wang, Q. (2005, July). Disability and American families: 2000 (CENSR-23). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau. Available online at: https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2005/dec/censr-23.html
Zehler, A.M., Fleischman, H.L., Hopstock, P.J., Stephenson, T.G., Pendzick, M.L., & Sapru, S. (2003). Descriptive study of services to LEP children and LEP children with disabilities: Summary of findings related to LEP and SpEd-LEP children (Policy Report). Arlington, VA: Development Associates, Inc. Available online at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/245877475_Descriptive_Study_of_Services_to_LEP_Students_and_LEP_Students_with_Disabilities
Would you like to read more about IEP meetings?
Scheduling the IEP Meeting and Notifying Parents
IDEA includes clear and detailed provisions that guide how schools schedule IEP meetings so that parents have the opportunity to be involved and participate.
Is an Interpreter Needed? (You’re already here!)
School systems must take whatever action is necessary to ensure that the parent understands the proceedings of the IEP team meeting, including arranging for an interpreter for parents with deafness or whose native language is other than English.
Special Factors in IEP Development
IDEA lists five special factors that the IEP team must consider in the development, review, and revision of each child’s IEP: behavior, limited English proficiency, Braille and children with blindness or visual impairment, communication needs (especially important for children who are deaf or hard of hearing), and assistive technology. Find out more here!
Updated August 2023