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Dulcinea Sorrell, 14, Kenia Castro, 14, Rachel Ross, 13, and Victoria Pasillas, 13,  use Chromebooks to prepare for state tests in a language arts class at Aurora's Columbia Middle School.

Dulcinea Sorrell, 14, Kenia Castro, 14, Rachel Ross, 13, and Victoria Pasillas, 13, use Chromebooks to prepare for state tests in a language arts class at Aurora’s Columbia Middle School.

Responsibility for translation and interpretation can’t fall to students, according to new Aurora policy

Aurora teachers and staff will no longer be allowed to use students to interpret formal conversations or conferences with parents unless there’s an emergency.

The proposed policy is meant to signal that translation services are a core responsibility of the district, located in one of the most diverse cities in Colorado — not something to be passed onto students simply because they’re available. The board is expected to vote on the draft policy May 1.

It comes after several parents asked the district and the school board to limit educators’ reliance on students. Some called that practice an injustice, noting that it can mean students are asked to leave class.

“Our purpose and motivation behind this was to make sure children weren’t being pulled out of class to provide interpretation,” said Debbie Gerkin, a board member who worked on the new policy. “I feel like this fulfills that.”

Under the new policy, schools are not supposed to “rely on or ask” students or their siblings, friends, or untrained school staff for translation. The policy also states that district staff must receive training on how to access translation and interpretation services.

The moves are significant in Aurora, where school district officials said in January that their nearly 41,000 students speak 167 different languages. Parents have reported 143 different languages as their communication preference.

District staff said they researched policies in other districts as they created the policy. Some of the language in Aurora’s policy parallels a model policy posted by the ACLU in Maine.

Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest district, has no explicit policy on the use of students for translation or interpretation, but does make some specific jobs the responsibility of the district. Adams 14, a smaller neighboring district that has the highest percentage of English learners in the state, also does not have a policy preventing students from interpreting. A district spokeswoman said it is not their practice to use students, and that family liaisons at each school and a district-level administrator are responsible for providing interpretation or translation services.

In Westminster, a recent settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice does lay out rules that restrict students in that district from being used as interpreters.

New board members Gerkin and Kyla Armstrong Romero worked with district staff to write the policy, which was reviewed at a board meeting Tuesday night.

Aurora’s superintendent, Rico Munn, told the board the new policy does not need a board vote to be adopted. Board members asked for a chance to vote on the policy anyway, even if just a symbolic move, at one of their next board meetings.

Salamahbibi Hashin, a mother of two district students, who speaks Burmese and helped ask the district for the changes, said she was thankful the district moved forward with the policy.

“It’s really helpful for children, for their future,” Hashin said. “They don’t have to be interpreters for their parents, so they have time to learn and they don’t have to worry.”

Hashin also said the district needs to continue working with parents to address other issues.

Parents, for instance, had also asked the district to create a centralized office for translation and interpretation services to ensure parents and staff knew where to go to get that help. District officials say they are also “pursuing creating a central language services office.”