As part of its ongoing efforts to increase inclusivity towards non-native English speakers in the academic setting, the Illinois State Board of Education amended its special education regulations to expand access to interpreters and translated documents. These changes, which went into effect on February 6, 2023, are largely geared towards ensuring meaningful participation for non-native English-speaking parents in special education meetings and decision making processes These changes not only codify procedures that were already in place but also institute new responsibilities for school districts and rights for parents.

Parents who believe that a school district unreasonably denied their request for an interpreter in an IEP meeting, have all the rights available to them for remedy under the IDEA and Article 14 of the Illinois School Code, including but not limited to a due process hearing, mediation, and filing a Complaint with the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) or the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. To ensure compliance, school districts must record data on interpretation services, such as notices of interpretation services, when those services are or are not provided, when parents file complaints on the basis of interpretation services, the qualifications of the interpreters and more.

As part of these changes, three new terms were added:

  1. “Common languages” means the five most commonly spoken languages other than English that are used in Illinois; and for a given school district, any language that is spoken by more than 20 total families in that school district.
  2. “Less common language” means any language that is not considered a common language.
  3. “Vital Documents List” includes the IEP, Parent/Guardian Notification of Conference, Parent/Guardian Notification of Conference Recommendations, Notice of Procedural Safeguards for Parents/Guardians of Students with Disabilities, Parent/Guardian Consent for Initial Evaluation, Parent Consent for Reevaluation, Evaluation Reports, Eligibility Determination, Manifestation Determination Review documents, IEP Progress Reports, and Medicaid Consent Forms.

Similarly, “preferred language” now means a parent’s or guardian’s native language or any other language with which both parents or guardians are fluent and have agreed upon, and the requirements for a qualified interpreter have been updated.

School districts must provide a written translation of the Vital Documents List into the ten most commonly spoken languages in Illinois, other than English, to parents with limited English proficiency. After an IEP meeting, the IEP and any related forms, such as Parent/Guardian Notification of Conference Recommendations form, must be translated and provided to the parents simultaneously with the IEP documents. All reasonable efforts should be made to provide the translated IEP and accompanying documents within seven school days after the meeting or as soon as possible. All other Vital Documents must be translated and made available to parents within thirty school days after the IEP meeting.

For documents that fall outside the definition of Vital Documents, parents may request the school district translate any documents that have a vital relation to the student’s educational planning through the process identified in the Notice of Conference form. The amended regulations do not define what constitutes a vital relation to the student’s educational planning. As such, if a school district is unsure whether a document qualifies, we recommend contacting a Franczek attorney.

School districts bear the responsibility of making reasonable efforts to provide the requested translations in a timely manner. Consistent with previous laws and guidance, the amended regulations require all translations to be performed by competent translators who have undergone sufficient professional training regarding special education terminology and processes, or by competent outside vendors. If a school district must use an automated translation program, a qualified individual is required to review and edit the resulting translation for accuracy.

Any American Sign Language or common language interpreter utilized in an IEP meeting must be a qualified interpreter, or, if a qualified interpreter is not available, an outside vendor from a competent interpretation service. For less common languages, the school district must make reasonable efforts to provide an interpreter who is qualified and competent to speak and understand the language, trained in interpretation ethics and providing interpretation, and knowledgeable in any relevant special education terminology.

On an annual basis, school districts must now report to ISBE through the IEP-Student Tracking and Reporting System (“ISTAR”) anonymously aggregated data regarding:

  1. The number of translated IEPs and Notice of Conference (“NOC”) forms prepared that year for which a parent requested translation, had previously requested translation services, or had otherwise indicated that a translation was necessary;
  2. The total number and percentage of such IEPs and NOC forms for which a parent requested translation, had previously requested translation services, or had otherwise indicated that a translation was necessary;
  3. The number of and percentage of such IEPs and NOC forms, by language, for which a parent requested translation, had previously requested translation services, or had otherwise indicated that a translation was necessary;
  4. The number of and percentage of the IEPs and NOC forms that were translated, the average number of school days between the IEP meeting and the provision of the translated NOC Recommendations, by language;
  5. The number and percentage of IEPs, by language, when a translated IEP was provided within 30 school days of the IEP meeting; and
  6. Of the IEPs that were translated, the average number of school days between the IEP and the provision of the IEP, by language.

As a reminder, school districts must also document in the IEP Conference Summary and annually report to ISBE the following: (1) whether a parent requested an interpreter, had previously requested interpretation services, or had otherwise indicated that an interpreter was necessary to ensure the parent had meaningful involvement in the IEP meeting; (2) the language for interpretation; (3) whether a qualified interpreter was provided at each IEP meeting; and (4) whether a parent requested the interpreter only serve as an interpreter in the IEP meeting and, if so, whether the district granted that request. This information must be reported in an anonymously aggregated format, to ISBE through ISTAR or another adopted reporting system.

While this alert discusses some of the new requirements regarding a school district’s responsibilities to translate documents and provide qualified interpreters, the amendments to Part 226 were extensive and affected other aspects of the provision of services to students with disabilities. If you have any questions regarding the new requirements mentioned in this article or any of the other new requirements included in the amendments to Part 226 of the Illinois Administrative Code, please contact one of the authors of this alert or any Franczek attorney.