Pennsylvania Record

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Court denies class action status to parents accusing Philadelphia schools of offering inadequate translation services

Lawsuits

By Charmaine Little | Apr 30, 2019


PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied a class certification for a group of parents and students suing the School District of Philadelphia for its allegedly subpar translation services.

Judge Mitchell Goldberg denied the certification for the class on April 18.

The plaintiffs accuse the school district of using translation and interpretation services to limited English proficient parents that deprives parents and their children of the ability to meaningfully participate in the social education process and the development of individualized education programs (IEPs).

They said the school district violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ultimately, they accused the school district of not having proper translation services to fit the growing need of families whose households do not primarily speak English. Because of the lacking services, parents say they aren’t able to make educated decisions or even fully be included in the IEP process, which has a negative impact on the students’ education experience.  

To fulfill class certification requirements, the class has to be so major that joinder is nearly impossible (numerosity), and there must be questions of law or fact that is a common theme among the class (commonality). The claims from the representative parties also have to be distinctive (typicality) and the representatives have to protect the interest of the class as a whole (adequacy of representation).

The school district argued the class doesn’t meet the requirements because the plaintiffs’ claims of a systemic failure doesn’t create a class, and that the definition of the class is way too broad. The court denied both arguments and said, “The school district’s denial that it engages in the alleged conduct on a systemic basis is not appropriate when considering class certification…I find that the definitions are neither ambiguous nor unworkable.”

The court pointed out the proposed class is defined in two groups. The first is parents with limited English-proficiency whose children are in the school district and have a disability as defined by the IDEA. The second is characterized as present and future students in grades kindergarten through “age of legal entitlement” who have a disability as defined by IDEA.

Still, the plaintiffs had to fulfill the requirements of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) before the judge could certify their class. The court said it doesn’t meet one requirement as they don’t “focus on whether parents of children with disabilities have limited proficiency with the English language." 

Plaintiffs also didn’t meet the second requirement as the court noted it doesn’t combat a broad or systemic failure the school district performed.

“Put another way, while the school district’s provision of translation or interpretation services might, in some cases, deny a parent the right of meaningful participation, that same conduct may, in other cases, sufficiently allow a parent to meaningfully participate in their child’s IEP process,” Goldberg wrote.

The typicality and adequacy of representation requirements were met, the court determined. Still, the judge didn’t certify the class, stating that overall, the plaintiffs didn’t meet the requirements for Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23.

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