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LEGISLATIVE NEWS: Orwall bill to increase language access in public schools clears House

OLYMPIA – Yesterday, the Washington State House of Representatives voted to approve legislation that will help close equity gaps in our schools by establishing a language access program for culturally responsive family engagement within our education system. The bill, which started from community voices, will remain a continued partnership throughout the process of implementation.

House Bill 1153, which passed on an 83-13 vote and was introduced by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, embraces best practices to assist school districts on ways to better serve families with language access needs.  It will provide a credential process and training program for interpreters. The language access program will train interpreters on the specific language and programs used within the education system so they can communicate effectively with families. The bill directs the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to develop language access program standards and a credentialing process, and to collaborate on ways to support more interpreters and language access coordinators in school settings. 

“This bill is about welcoming and engaging families, and supporting students across the state,” said Rep. Orwall, stressing that “all parents have the right to information about their child and their child’s education in a language they can understand. This is current federal and state law, and it’s a civil rights issue to give schools the resources to make them places where everyone can thrive.”

Orwall’s measure will:

  • Ensure that school districts have language access plans that contain best practices including policies and procedures for access interpretation services. This is especially important for high stake meetings such as Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings where specific behaviors need to be addressed.
  • Establish ‘Language Access Navigators’ for schools that have a high percentage of different languages spoken and of English Language Learners (ELL).
  • Create a partnership between OSPI and the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) to create best practices around the credentialing process for interpreters and for language access plans.

“Language access can be a huge hurdle for many students and families in our education system. All students who need spoken translation or sign language interpretation, deserve the same opportunity and education as their peers. Similarly, all families should have the equal ability to engage with schools as partners in their students’ education,” said Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way, who has also consistently worked to move this policy forward over the years.

Washington is home to some of the most diverse zip codes in the country, with some school districts having over 137 languages spoken in their students’ homes. This bill was originally developed after a meeting five years ago with parents who were left out of their kids’ education, children who had to interpret for teachers, and with interpreters who didn’t have the resources to help students succeed.

“I was eight years old when I had to translate for my mother in a school meeting. Having kids doing this job was bad policy then and it continues to be bad policy all these years later,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair, Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, a passionate advocate for language access, who explained that she repeatedly saw children interpreting for their parents when she traveled around the state with the Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

The measure was refined in partnership with advocacy groups, education stakeholders, and OSPI. Orwall commended Open Doors and One America for their work with culturally and linguistically diverse families, many of whom have children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She underscored that their support to move this legislation forward had been invaluable.

“It was in a room full of families at Open Doors where I learned about their experiences trying to navigate programs for children with special needs, such as IEP and 504. As a parent and native English speaker, I can tell you they are very challenging to process. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for parents with language barriers,” Orwall said. “Bottom-line is, we need this bill because all Washington parents can and should play an active role in their children’s academic lives.”

HB 1153 now moves to the Senate for consideration. 

Watch the Floor debate on HB 1153 HERE with compelling speeches by Reps. Tina Orwall, Lillian Ortiz-Self, My-Linh Thai, Sharon Tomiko Santos, and Monica Stonier