Class Action Lawsuit By Limited English Proficient Parents Allowed to Proceed

The claims of Seven Chicago Public School (CPS) students with individualized education programs (“IEP”) and their Limited English Proficient (“LEP”) parents who primarily speak Spanish, Mandarin, or Polish (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) will proceed after surviving a recent motion to dismiss.

In H.P. v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 74 IDELR 128 (N.D. Ill. 2019), the Plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging, in relevant part, that the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (the “CPS Defendants”) and the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) ( the “ISBE Defendants”) failed to translate vital IEP process documents or to provide competent and impartial interpreters to LEP parents during their children’s IEP meetings despite CPS having prior knowledge of the parents’ LEP status. As a result of these failures, the Plaintiffs asserted that they were (1) denied a free appropriate education (“FAPE”) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and (2) discriminated upon on the basis of national origin in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI).

The CPS Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the Plaintiffs failed to properly exhaust their administrative remedies under the IDEA or, for those who did, the administrative process mooted their claims. The Plaintiffs maintained that they were not required to exhaust their administrative remedies, however, because they were only seeking systemic relief which could not be provided through the administrative process.  Specifically, they asserted that the relief they sought would require CPS to implement certain policies and practices to ensure that LEP parents receive competent interpretation and translation services.  The Court noted, however, that that under the IDEA, CPS is only required to provide translation and interpretation services to the extent necessary to ensure meaningful parent participation which involves a fact-intensive inquiry into the individual circumstances of each case rather that the proscription of a certain course of conduct.  Accordingly, the Court found exhaustion of administrative remedies necessary.  The Court went on to find that one of the named Plaintiffs, E.V., and his parents properly exhausted their administrative claims freeing them up to challenge the hearing officer’s determination that the lack of translation and interpretation services in their case did not deny E.V. a FAPE.  The Court further held that because E.V. properly exhausted his administrative remedies, the remaining Plaintiffs (the court dismissed one Plaintiff’s claims against the CPS Defendants because a hearing officer previously granted the relief he sought) could pursue their similar claims without going through the administrative process.

Finally, the Court found that the Plaintiffs’ allegations–which at the motion to dismiss stage the court must take as true, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the Plaintiffs–sufficiently alleged both a denial of FAPE and language-based/national-origin discrimination in violation of Title VI.  The Plaintiffs’ allegations regarding FAPE demonstrated that the lack of translation and interpreter services significantly impeded the parents’ ability to participate in the IEP process and caused additional harm to the students while the Plaintiffs’ allegations regarding Title VI sufficiently demonstrated that the lack of translation and interpreter services for LEP parents denied them the right to meaningfully participate in the IEP process to the same extent as those who speak and read English proficiently.  Whether the Plaintiffs will ultimately prevail on the merits remains to be seen.

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