Open Letter To the State of Hawai‘i Board of Education

BOE Needs a Policy to Help EL Parents Be Engaged

I have had many friends in my lifetime who don't speak English well.   In education, they're referred to as ELs or ELLs (English Learners or English Language Learners).   ELs don't come from English-speaking countries, their parents didn't come from English-speaking countries,  or their parents' English is so awful they might as well have not come from English speaking countries.  I prefer the term, English-challenged as "EL" and "ELL" often refer to only students, not parents, too.

My grandparents grew up in Italian immigrant families.  I married into a family of Estonian immigrants.  I fully understand how difficult it can be to help your child in school if you don't understand English or the U.S. public education system.   

One of my English-challenged friends has a  child in public school who needs special education services.   I am on the IEP Team, because federal IDEA law  gives the parent the legal right to choose members for the team who have special expertise regarding the child, and I've been tutoring the child for almost three years.   Thank goodness for the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).   EL parents need something similar ensure their rights, too.

Here's the big problem for all EL parents in Hawai‘i:   

My friend keeps asking, in writing, that the DOE (from school to state level) communicate with her in English, and include me (e.g., cc: me on email) because I am her chosen interpreter. The DOE keeps ignoring her requests!   

I filed a complaint about the all the Board Policies that are being violated (E-2, 101-6, 101-14, 102-3, 304, 304-1, 304-5, and HAR §8-34-4) by the way this community volunteer (me) and this EL parent are being treated.  After months of taking the issue to the Complex Area Superintendent, the State Deputy Superintendent, and the State Superintendent, this issue remains unaddressed.  I don't mean unresolved.  I mean not addressed at all!  Completely brushed off.   I was told to file a State IDEA complaint,  but this isn't an IDEA issue.  I doubt anyone at the DOE even bothered to read my complaint.

The DOE stance on this issue is so morally wrong, I cannot fathom how anyone can find this acceptable.  I hope the BOE members share this sentiment and will create policies that end this kind of linguistic bullying of our EL parents by the DOE.  

I cringe when I imagine how many other English-challenged parents out there have not been allowed to choose their own family member or friend to help them understand what is happening with their child in Hawai‘i DOE public schools simply because the DOE won't let them.  This is not only vicious bullying, it's counter-productive to the end goal of doing the best job we can with all stakeholders collaborating to educate our keiki.

Please  adopt BOE Policy protections for EL parents to engage whomever they trust to help them interpret and assist in home-to-school-to-home communications.   Suggestions follow.

Ms. V. Ott

March 29, 2020

Much-Needed Amendments to English Learner / Family & Community Engagement Policies

Proposed Amendment to BOE Policy 101-14: 

Family and Community Engagement/Partnership

...The Department shall provide adequate services to EL students and be responsible for developing rules, guidelines, and/or procedures to implement the goals set forth below:…

6.  Entitle parents with the right to enlist the aid of an interpreter/language assistant of their own choosing who shall be included in and may help the parents manage communication with the Department. 


Proposed Amendment to BOE Policy 105-14:

Multilingualism for Equitable Education

...The Department shall strive to meet the following goals of this policy:...

  • provide outreach supports to families to become actively engaged in their children’s education.
  • give parents the right to choose their own interpreter to assist in communication between parents and the DOE.

How to send email to the Board of Education

There are different methods for sending email to the BOE

1.  The BOE's "Connect With Us" web page with mailto: links for each Board Member is here: 


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3.   You can send an email to all BOE members by copying the comma-separated  list of all BOE member addresses in the following text file, and pasting it in the To: field of your email.