This week, in a virtual bill signing ceremony, Gov. Jay Inslee signed Rep. Tina Orwall’s House Bill 1153 into law.

The measure will help close equity gaps in Washington’s public schools by establishing a language access program for culturally responsive family engagement within the state’s education system.

Orwall represents the 33rd District, which consists of east Burien, Normandy Park, SeaTac, Des Moines and parts of Kent, Tukwila, and Renton.

“It has been a very long journey and, while I am proud and truly happy that we finally reached our goal, I am first and foremost grateful for the community’s invaluable support and encouragement over years of perseverance, and for the solid partnerships established with colleagues in both chambers and both caucuses,” said the Des Moines Democrat.

Orwall pointed out that some school districts in Washington have over 137 languages spoken in their students’ homes and that the bill stemmed from a meeting, five years ago, with parents who were left out of their kids’ education, children who had to interpret for teachers, and interpreters who didn’t have the resources to help students succeed.

“So, there was a very real need and a strong case for this legislation. Today’s accomplishment is owed to so many people and so much work, and what it represents is hope for parents who will have a path paved with the supports and services necessary for them to become active players in their children’s education,” added Orwall.

The measure embraces best practices to assist school districts on ways to better serve families with language access needs. It will provide a credential process and training program for interpreters. The language access program will train interpreters on the specific language and programs used within the education system so they can communicate effectively with families. The bill directs the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to develop language access program standards and a credentialing process, and to collaborate on ways to support more interpreters and language access coordinators in school settings.

HB 1153 passed the House on an 83-13 vote in early February and the Senate on a 43-5 vote on March 2, after amending it to delay implementation by one year and exempting school districts that have fewer than 1,000 enrolled students and less than 10 percent English learner enrollment. The House concurred 86-12 with the Senate changes on March 8.

Here’s more from Orwall’s office:

Orwall’s legislation will:

    • Ensure that school districts have language access plans that contain best practices including policies and procedures for access interpretation services. This is especially important for high stake meetings such as Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings where specific behaviors need to be addressed.
    • Establish ‘Language Access Navigators’ for schools that have a high percentage of different languages spoken and of English Language Learners (ELL).
    • Create a partnership between OSPI and the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) to create best practices around the credentialing process for interpreters and for language access plans.

The measure was refined in partnership with advocacy groups, education stakeholders, and OSPI. Rep. Orwall commended Open Doors and One America for their work with culturally and linguistically diverse families, many of whom have children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She underscored that their support to move this legislation forward had been vital.

“I am thrilled to see community feedback becoming a bill… and now, Washington State Law.  It makes me feel proud to live in a state where bipartisan support is still possible in crucial spaces like our public schools. For multicultural families, especially those who have loved ones with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, this law will make the greatest difference in allowing parents to be part of their child’s education,” said Moses Perez, Program Manager of Open Doors for Multicultural Families.

“Immigrants and refugees have long seen and pursued education as an opportunity for a successful life in the United States. With this bill, immigrant and refugee families in Washington will have the structures and services to fully and meaningfully be a part of their student’s education, while also feeling that their first language and their culture are valuable,” said Kaitie Dong, Leadership Development & Education Manager at OneAmerica. “We celebrate this monumental win for immigrants, refugees, and families with disabilities, as a pivotal step in our work toward a world where historically marginalized communities have equitable access to a quality K-12 education where their needs are centered, and their cultures are celebrated.”

Orwall discussed House Bill 1153 with two strong supporters of the measure, Senators Claire Wilson and Yasmin Trudeau, on Feb. 28 in the fourth installment of her “Tina Talk” video series, which you can watch below: