After Littleton Public Schools board members voted to deny collective bargaining rights to interpreters for deaf/hard-of-hearing students on June 9, I was reminded of a Rev. Jesse Jackson quote: “The problem is not that the students do not hear. The problem is that the hearing world does not listen.”
The LPS turnover rate for interpreters is hard on deaf/hard-of-hearing students. Without a meaningful say in our working conditions, we’re faced with inconsistent coverage and an ever-changing cast of interpreters that results in a lack of trust and impaired learning for the Littleton students we work with. In my five years with the district, at least 10 interpreters have come and gone, many not even lasting a full semester. We constantly look for new hires and when we can’t fill a position, the district is forced to pay higher rates for freelance agency coverage.
One key way to improve the education and quality of services for our students would be for the LPS board to grant union recognition to interpreters. As credentialed professionals with associate or bachelor’s degrees, national performance/skills exams and 60-plus hours of continuing education credits, we should be given a real seat at the table and categorized with other licensed staffers who do have union rights.
Recognizing us — either as our own union or as a part of the already-established Littleton Education Association — will allow interpreters to exert greater autonomy over our profession, building consistency and higher quality learning environments for Littleton students.
Research shows that the key to academic success for deaf/hard-of-hearing students is the educational interpreter who communicates the material being taught, not the quality of teaching. The same study found that educational interpreters are “shortchanged by the education system,” leading to these professionals cycling out of districts at an alarming rate and ultimately our students losing out.
But we need your help to change the system. If you agree our students deserve better, please ask the LPS board to approve an interpreter union. And if you feel inspired, please join us in August at the next board meeting to share your thoughts during personal comment.