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Know Your Rights
Source: Staten Island Advance
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Education Department Makes Overture to Staten Island Immigrants


STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The city Department of Education is trying to give the immigrant community something it’s not used to having — a voice.

The challenge is figuring out how to do it.

Applications are being accepted until next week for the new Citywide Council on English Language Learners, a panel of 11 members who will advise the DOE. Parents must have a child in a bilingual, dual-language or English as a Second Language program in a public school.

“We’re saying, we don’t care if you don’t speak English, we don’t care what your immigration status is,” said Jaclyn Berryman of the DOE’s Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy. “We just want you to be a part of it.”

Of the 30 people citywide who have applied, only one is a Staten Islander, officials said. That person’s name was not released.

Piquing interest is tough because immigrant parents don’t feel welcomed, said Deycy Avitia, the education advocacy coordinator for the New York Immigration Coalition, which encompasses El Centro de Hospitalidad and Make the Road New York, both in Port Richmond.

“A lot of the problems across the city are magnified on Staten Island because the immigrant population is relatively newer,” Ms. Avitia said. “The increase also happened so fast that a lot of schools were not prepared.”

School security personnel often ask for state-issued photo ID, which parents may not have because of their immigration status, Ms. Avitia said. Low-income families may have only a benefit card.

Ms. Avita, who recommended that schools post large signs near the entrances letting parents know about translation services, said schools lose out by not encouraging participation.

“The research is unequivocal: When parents are involved in their children’s education, there’s increased attendance, there’s increased student achievement,” she said. “When a school doesn’t have a fully engaged immigrant parent, it’s hurting that potential.”

Meanwhile, the Citywide Council on Special Education drew six applicants from Staten Island, of about 55 citywide.

The panel was tweaked to include parents of all special-ed students, not just those in District 75, but after an outcry from the special-ed community, the DOE agreed to have a panel for District 75 council and a panel for parents of children with Individualized Education Plans.

Four people spoke at a forum at the Richmondtown Library tonight: John Englert of Castleton Corners, the current CCSE president who wants to listen to the community and make policies based on their needs; Stephanie Paulicelli of Rosebank, who wants to teach parents how to advocate for their children; Jaye Bea Smalley of Manhattan, who wants to ensure parents know of resources, and Marie Farano-Rodriguez of Port Richmond, a former special-ed teaching assistant who wants to create more programs.

Parents can place a straw vote from April 26 to April 30 on, with an official vote from PTA officers to take place in early May. The new members will be chosen by the end of May.