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Deaf parent sues San Antonio ISD, claims school district didn’t provide interpreters

A deaf man whose son attends Tafolla Middle School has sued the San Antonio Independent School District, claiming he requested sign language interpreters for multiple parent-teacher conferences but was never provided them as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws.

Cleto Rodriguez — not to be confused with the local comedian of the same name — filed the suit last year in federal court in the Western District of Texas. He seeks unspecified damages, said his lawyer, Andrew Rozynski of Eisenberg & Baum in New York, a firm that works with clients who are deaf or hard of hearing.

My client hopes that this sends a message to all school districts that they not only have to accommodate their students, but the disabled parents of students who want to be involved in their child’s education,” Rozynski said. “It’s just as important.”   SAISD has denied the allegations.

Rodriguez, 44, is “profoundly deaf” and communicates primarily in American Sign Language, according to the suit. At the start of the 2016-2017 school year, his son’s grades began to drop and the boy was increasingly being disciplined at Tafolla Middle, the suit said. The boy said he was being bullied because his father and aunt were deaf and his teachers were failing to intervene, according to the suit.

The school called Rodriguez, the boy’s primary caretaker, for a conference, Rozynski said. Rodriguez took the call with the help of a government-subsidized video interpreter service, Rozynski said. Rodriguez told school staff he was deaf and would need an interpreter for the meeting, the suit said.

When Rodriguez arrived for the meeting, there was no interpreter, according to the suit. Rodriguez asked to reschedule, provided an interpreter agency’s business card and asked for an interpreter at all future conferences and parent events, the suit said.

The school called Rodriguez again several weeks later about his son’s behavioral problems, according to the suit. Rodriguez went again to the school for a meeting, and again there was no interpreter, but that time Rodriguez brought family along to translate, the suit said.

When Rodriguez’s mother asked why no interpreter was present, Tafolla staff said they couldn’t get one, according to the suit.

The school called Rodriguez for meetings four or five more times but never provided an interpreter, the suit states.

In denying the allegations in court documents, SAISD claimed Rodriguez “failed to engage in a good faith dialogue” to request aid before meetings or events he wanted to participate in and that he “would simply appear for an event or a meeting without first requesting an auxiliary aid or service.”

The district also said it offered unspecified assistance for Rodriguez to participate in some events or meetings, but Rodriguez refused the offers.