Schools Obligated To Translate For Non-English Speaking Parents


Last Updated on July 28, 2022 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995

California is a diverse state, with many different cultures, nationalities and languages.  Residents’ children, regardless of language spoken by students or their parents, have the right to attend California public schools. While non-English speaking students may attend classes which help them better learn English, their parents may remain non-English speakers.  How do parents stay informed about a student’s school progress, development, and any issues which might arise, when they cannot read or understand English?

translated documents at school
Schools must provide translated documents when over 15% of students speak a primary language other than English

Parent Documents Often Must Be Translated By Schools

Education Code §48985  mandates that documents be translated for non-English speaking parents if pupils speak a language other than English and total more than 15% of a school’s population:

(a) If 15 percent or more of the pupils enrolled in a public school that provides instruction in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, speak a single primary language other than English, as determined from the census data… the preceding year, all notices, reports, statements, or records sent to the parent or guardian of any such pupil by the school or school district shall, in addition to being written in English, be written in the primary language, and may be responded to either in English or the primary language.

Student’s Primary Language Matters, if 15% or Above

If pupils who speak a language other than English total more than 15% of a school’s population, documents must be sent to their family in English and their native language (e.g. Spanish, Cantonese, Arabic, Hmong, Russian or other language depending on the population of the school).  Such documents should include report cards, testing notices, policies, enrollment paperwork, discipline notices and many other communications to the students’ families.

Limited English Proficient Parents Have Translation Rights

But what if students speak English, but parents do not? Parents who may be Limited English Proficient (LEP) continue to have rights to translated documents from the student’s school.

Limited English Proficient parents in schools
Limited English Proficient parents must be provided with translated documents and maybe even a translator

Education Code §51101.1 addresses the rights of parents to translated documents:

(a) A parent or guardian’s lack of English fluency does not preclude a parent or guardian from exercising the rights guaranteed under this chapter. A school district shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that all parents and guardians of pupils who speak a language other than English are properly notified in English and in their home language … of the rights and opportunities available to them pursuant to this section.

(b) Parents and guardians of English learners are entitled to participate in the education of their children pursuant to Section 51101 and as follows…

(2) To be given any required written notification, under any applicable law, in English and the pupil’s home language …

These rights are backed up by the California Department of Education.

Frequent Breaches Can Occur to Non-English Speaking Parents

I have seen non-English speaking parents’ rights breached via school failures to provide translated documents. Limited English Proficient parents may then find themselves in a situation that may be important which they cannot understand.

Examples can include improperly translated expulsion hearing documents, suspension forms, report cards, school notices or other student or school documents.  The lack of proper translation prevents non-English speaking parents from being able to fully participate in the student’s education and disenfranchises them.

Language translation school
Parents should not have to translate important student documents themselves

Parents Should Notify School

If a non-English speaking parent finds they are not getting documents in their language or are attending student meetings (such as parent teacher conferences) and are not able to understand, the parent should notify the school immediately. The parent can demand translated documents and translators be provided to them by the school.

If you know someone who is not an English speaker, be sure they know their rights to translated educational documents and even translators, pursuant to state law.  We all benefit if parents are engaged in student education.

Parent and student lawyer Michelle Ball can help parents with failures by schools to provide translated documents or proper translators when students or parents don’t speak English. As an attorney in Sacramento California, Michelle can assist in Fair Oaks, Carmichael, Elk Grove, Stockton, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, Ceres, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many other locations.