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Know Your Rights
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

NYC Schools Are Often Lost In Translation

Walk the halls and the classrooms of International High School in Brooklyn, and you’ll hear 19 different languages spoken. And while the students all learn, and use English, in school, the job of translating what’s happening to parents is often left up to their kids.

"Wherever my parents go they have to take me with them," says 15-year-old Hawa Kebe, who speaks French and the African language Fulani.

40 percent of city students come from families where English isn’t the first language. On Monday, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the City Council announced a deal to expand translation services in schools, and require schools to use them.

"Every parent has a right to know what is going on with their child at school," Bloomberg said.

Currently, the Department of Education can translate letters, report cards and offer telephone translators in eight languages. But with an extra $2 million committed Monday, schools hope they can soon offer more.

"It becomes very challenging to communicate with parents, specifically in certain languages like Bengali or Hindi where we have little to no representation among the staff," said International High School Principal Alexendra Anormaliza.

And the results are costly. Often, the language barrier discourages parents from taking part in their child’s education.

"When they don’t understand they get frustrated and they don’t really get involved," said Chime Dolma, whose family speaks Tibetan.

With so many different languages, city officials admit they can’t satisfy every parent all the time. But at least now, schools are required to try.

(© MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)