The city Department of Education (DOE) is preventing non-English-speaking parents from being involved in their children’s educations, local community groups charge.
Advocates for Children of New York and the New York Immigration Coalition teamed up with eight other advocacy groups to spend one month examining the effectiveness of the DOE’s translation and interpretation services and were unhappy with what they uncovered.
According to a report released by the groups, many schools and 13 of the city’s 15 high school registration centers lack documents and notices in languages other than English and do not have interpreters on staff.
Also, when parents visit these sites, signs directing them to administrative offices are often posted only in English.
The groups decided to review the DOE’s translation services after the department committed $2 million and a new Chancellor’s Regulation was penned to improve and expand aid last February. (School officials had said the money would be spent to make more information available in various languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Urdu, Russian, Bengali, Haitian Creole, Korean, and Arabic.)
Unfortunately, they say, problems persist.
"The Department of Education had seven months since the Chancellor’s Regulation was announced to ramp up translation and interpretation services for parents who speak limited English," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. "The regulation is not being implemented on the ground and, as a result, thousands of immigrant parents are not getting the information they need to make critical choices about their children’s education."
"If translated materials and interpretation services are not available to parents, especially during the early part of the school year, then some of our most vulnerable students will fall through the cracks," asserted Gisela Alvarez, project director for Advocates for Children.
"We fought so hard last year to improve language services for parents in the schools and I thought things would be different this year but when I got to my child’s school, nothing had changed," said Silvia Oreo, a member of Make the Road by Walking, a not-for-profit organization assisting Bushwick’s low-income Latino and African-American residents.
In spite of the new regulation, many parents have visited Make the Road by Walking’s headquarters since the school year began to complain about a lack of translation services at their children’s schools, Irene Tung, the group’s coordinator of organizing, said.
Tung said she often hears "horrible" stories "about parents not being able to communicate with teachers. We have parents whose kids have been put in special ed and they don’t know why. And parents who have health concerns [about their children] but they can’t communicate with the school nurse."
In these instances, parents visit Make the Road by Walking and the organization’s staffers help them fill out school paperwork or contact teachers and administrators on their behalf.
"We end up doing the translation," Tung said. "But, "It shouldn’t be our job," she insisted.
Andrew Jacob, a DOE spokesperson, said the department has implemented the translation service expansions promised to parents earlier this year.
"Our efforts to provide language access to parents are unparalleled nationwide and fully comply with the Chancellor’s Regulation," he said. "Any statement suggesting otherwise is incorrect."
He said school officials hope to work with immigrants’ rights groups to further improve translation service offerings.
"The deputy chancellor for Teaching and Learning and other senior staff have repeatedly offered their time to the Immigration Coalition and look forward to working with the Coalition on any issues of concern," he said.