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Dispute Resolution

Working with Interpreters in Special Education Meetings

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parent participation is a right (34 CFR §300.322). In the special education process, nurturing collaborative relationships with parents who are English language learners requires intention and practice. Special education meetings where interpreters are involved provide a critical opportunity for both.

Raise Your Voice!

Parents who speak a language other than English and have experienced what it’s like to actively participate on their child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team have a message to share about the important role of interpreters in special education meetings:

Spanish Voice

Somali Voice

Hmong Voice

To support school districts in their work with the parents of students with disabilities who speak a language other than English, PACER Center has created this checklist to use as a tool before, during, and after a meeting where their child’s needs and services will be discussed.

Professionals that Support Parents who Speak a Language other than English in the Special Education Process

Roles and Responsibilities

A translator works with written language, producing a document in one language which meaningfully conveys the content and tone of what is written in an original document in another language. Under IDEA, a prior written notice provided to the parent in their native language is a right (34 CFR §300.503(c)). Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, school districts have independent responsibilities to provide parents who are English language learners and also parents of children with disabilities with meaningful access through timely and complete translation of vital documents such as evaluation reports, IEPs, progress reports, and procedural safeguards. Translators of special education documents should have excellent writing skills and training in special education terminology. They are not typically involved in special education meetings, unless they are also qualified interpreters.

The interpreter conveys orally in one language what has been said in the other, without adding, editing or polishing what is said by either side. They may also provide sight translation, which is reading and orally interpreting the content of a written document. A skilled interpreter has the ability to convey the intended meaning of the speaker or writer, such as interpreting a term or expression that doesn’t have an equivalent in the parent’s native language. They do not offer opinions or advice. For special education meetings, the interpreter should have training in special education terminology.

Cultural liaison
A cultural liaison has a broader role than an interpreter and is generally employed by the school district. The Minnesota Administrative Rules defines a cultural liaison as a person who provides information to the IEP team about a student’s race, cultural, socioeconomic, and linguistic background, assists the IEP team in understanding how these factors impact educational progress, and facilitates the parent’s understanding and involvement in the special education process [Minn. R. 3525.0210, subp. 10].

An advocate speaks on behalf of the parent and/or assists them in understanding and participating in the special education process. All parents have the right to involve an advocate at any point during the special education process, from evaluation to developing an IEP and placement. If parents have a disagreement with the district, they should request assistance from an advocate who is not employed by the district.


PACER Center

Minnesota Department of Education (MDE)

The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education

U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) defines family engagement as the collaboration of families, schools and communities as active partners in the shared responsibilities of ensuring each student’s success in lifelong learning and development. If you need guidance to ensure that parents of students with disabilities in your district have effective language assistance services, contact MDE Community Engagement at 651.785.4064 or [email protected].

PACER Center’s vision is that children and young adults with disabilities and their families have access to resources and equitable opportunities to be successful and valued members of their community. If you are working with parents who are English language learners and need assistance from a parent advocate who speaks Spanish, Somali, or Hmong, refer them to PACER at 952.838.9000 or [email protected].

This project is made possible using funding from the Minnesota Department of Education.