Schools Have An Obligation To Provide Translated Documents


Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
California is a diverse state, with many different cultures, nationalities and languages being spoken.  Residents’ children, regardless of language spoken by students or their parents, have the right to attend California public schools.  Still, while non-English speaking students may attend classes (e.g. Spanish/English transition classes) which help them transition to English, their parents may remain non-English speakers.  How do they stay informed about their child’s school progress, development, and any issues which might arise?

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 submitted to the department pursuant to Section 52164 in 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.”

If pupils speaking 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.

Education Code §51101.1 further 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, pursuant to Section 48985, 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 pursuant to Section 48985.”

ed8d2e01-f128-49f1-9529-7c81f4c8b354-2I have seen non-English speaking parents’ rights breached via school district failure to provide translated documents.  This has included improperly translated expulsion hearing documents, suspension forms, report cards, and other legally mandated documents.  This prevents the non-English speaking parents from being able to read and understand the documents they receive and lessens their ability to participate in their children’s education.

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