A group of Latino parents sued the Holyoke school system Monday, alleging discrimination for failing to provide adequate translation of educational documents for parents with limited English proficiency.
The parents claim that Holyoke schools have failed to provide sufficient translation services for more than two decades even though they are required to do so under federal civil rights laws. The federal lawsuit alleges the inadequate translation keeps parents from fully participating in their children's education because of a language barrier. Nearly 80 percent of students in Holyoke are Hispanic. About 44 percent of students live in homes where English is not the primary language.
The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston names Holyoke school officials and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as defendants. A spokeswoman for Holyoke schools referred questions to the state agency, which declined to comment on the lawsuit. The school superintendent did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Holyoke schools were placed under state receivership in 2015.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the parents by Padres Latinos de las Escuelas de Springfield y Holyoke, an association of Latino parents of students enrolled in western Massachusetts schools. The group is represented by a law firm, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Inc. and The Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee.
"When parents are precluded from directing and participating in their children's educational programs due to language barriers, both parents and children are harmed," said Teresita Ramos, a language access attorney for the institute.
The parents allege in their lawsuit that Holyoke schools — acting "either with tacit approval or deliberate indifference" by state education officials — have "consistently disregarded or intentionally ignored" legal obligations to provide translations services to immigrant parents for over 20 years. They say the practice has continued even since the chronically underperforming schools were placed under state receivership two years ago.
The lawsuit says that state education officials have identified 113 schools and school districts in Massachusetts as failing to properly provide translated educational documents or oral translation services for parents who need it.
In Holyoke, problems include interpreters not being available when non-English speaking parents meet with teachers to make plans for any special education services their children may need and some education documents being written only in English.