Refugee Children and Educational Support: What You Need to Know

Dynamic Language | May 26, 2016

According to the U.S. State Department, since the year 1975, the U.S. has welcomed more than three million refugees across all 50 states. From 2006 through 2015, 622,169 refugees were resettled to the U.S. through the Refugee Admissions Program, and in 2015 alone, 69,933 refugees were resettled to America.

U.S. classrooms today have students who speak a variety of different languages.

This influx of refugees is likely to continue, as Secretary of State John Kerry recently announced that the Refugee Admissions Program is being expanded to further help vulnerable families from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Globally, approximately 45 percent of all refugees are under the age of 18. This staggering percentage explains why, as refugee families continue to be resettled in America, there is an increasing need for language support for refugee children entering U.S. school systems.

BRYCS: An Organization Offering Refugee Student Support

Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS) is an organization whose stated mission is to support refugee children and their families. The BRYCS website notes: “BRYCS strengthens the capacity of refugee-serving and mainstream organizations across the U.S. to ensure the successful development of refugee children, youth, and their families by increasing information sharing and promoting collaboration at the local, state, regional, and national levels.”

Currently, BRYCS maintains the nation’s largest online collection of resources related to refugee and immigrant children and families. BRYCS provides a tool kit for teachers and school personnel teaching refugees in the classroom.

Part Five of that Toolkit, entitled “Federal Requirements to Provide Interpretation/Translations in the Schools”, includes a list of federal regulations and recommendations for school systems with refugee students. Here are some of the highlights of that information:

The Difference between Translation and Interpretation

When considering the legal responsibilities of school systems to provide language support to refugee students, it is important to understand the need for both interpreters and translators. Interpretation refers to orally rendering communication from one language to another, whereas translation refers to the written word.

Therefore, school systems with refugee students who speak a language other than English must consider how to communicate both orally and through the written word with such students and with their parents.

The Legalities of Providing Language Services

It is also important for school administrators to consider the legal implications of having refugee children as part of their student body.

Is your school complying with all state and federal regulations pertaining to language support for refugees and LEP students?

Here are some of the regulations and legal requirements that have a bearing on providing language support to refugee children:

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. While Title VI does not explicitly make reference to providing language support, it is clear that failing to provide adequate communication to a student or parent may be considered discriminatory in nature.

The Equal Education Opportunities Act (EEOA): Also enacted in 1964, this act confirms that public schools and state educational agencies must act to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by students in their instructional programs.

1970 Memorandum: This clarification of Title VI requirements states: “School districts have the responsibility to adequately notify national origin-minority group parents of school activities which are called to the attention of other parents. Such notice in order to be adequate may have to be provided in a language other than English.”

Executive Order 13166, Improving Access for Persons with Limited English Proficiency: This order addresses “reasonable steps” which must be taken to ensure that those with limited English proficiency (LEP) actually have access to the information and services provided in federally funded programs and includes guidelines pertaining to the following four factors:
• The proportion of LEP persons to be served
• The frequency with which LEP persons come in contact with the program
• The nature and importance of the program in the lives of LEP persons
• The resources available to the recipient of the program and the associated costs

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act: This act outlines specific types of information which must be provided, to the extent practicable, in a language parents can understand, including things such as:
• information regarding achievement on academic assessments
• information on the school’s Title I plan
• information on the availability of supplemental educational services
• information related to school and parent programs, meetings, and other activities

Individuals with Disabilities Act: This act makes specific reference to interpretation and translation services for children with special needs and their parents. It outlines the following standards:
• Assessments and other evaluation materials used to assess a child must be provided and administered in the child’s native language, unless it is clearly not feasible to do so.
• When consent is sought for accepting special education services, the parent must be fully informed of all information relevant to the activity for which consent is sought, in his or her native language, or other mode of communication.
• All parents of a child with a disability are to be provided with written notice before the school proposes to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child. This written notice must be provided in the native language of the parent, unless it is clearly not feasible to do so. If the native language is not a written language, the school must ensure that the notice is translated orally.

Further Guidance for School Systems with Refugee Children and LEP Students

In 2015, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education issued Joint Guidance to ensure that state education agencies and school districts are equipped with the tools and resources to adequately comply with all state and federal requirements to provide language support for LEP students and their parents.

The Responsibility of School Administrators

School administrators must make all reasonable efforts to ensure that school systems within their districts are fully compliant with all state and federal regulations regarding the provision of language support for refugee and LEP students and their parents. In doing so, school administrators may answer to their State Department of Education, the Federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, or the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

To address the needs of refugee children and their parents, some school administrators turn to the services of professional language service providers (LSP). You can work with an LSP to provide both oral interpretation and written translation for students and their parents when needed. If your school system has a current or anticipated need for interpreters or translators, contact Dynamic Language today. Our highly skilled team of language professionals is proud to serve a number of school districts with multi-lingual students and parents.


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