About two dozen immigrant parents and activists assembled on the steps of the Department of Education (DOE) last Wednesday–the last day of school–complaining they are not getting the translation services they were promised.
"Unfortunately, more than four years later, we are forced to bring back the signs again," said Deycy Avitia, from New York Immigration Coalition, "the signs asking DOE to open the schools doors to immigrant parents."
Immigrant parents held a similar demonstration four years ago demanding those same services, and celebrated a victory on February of 2006 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced a plan to improve translation and interpretation services for immigrant parents with children in New York City public schools.
But now these same parents and activists say the regulation has not be put in place in many of the schools they visit.
"In a yearlong effort launched last September, we found registration centers in New York City did not have adequate translation documents and interpretation services," said Avitia. "We are frustrated to see that there have been no major changes to make sure that parents could adequately communicate with their children’s schools."
According to Avitia some parents, and even some school employees, don’t even know that DOE mandates these services.
"[We found] in a lot of instances parents were denied access to the schools simply because the security guards did not know about the regulation, and there was nothing posted so that parent could know they are entitled to these services," she added.
The coalition conducted the yearlong research in collaboration with Advocates for Children. They visited 100 schools and surveyed 900 parents to document how many schools were implementing these measures.
Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children said, "Our research shows that more than 70 percent of the schools we visited failed to have signs posted at or near the entrance letting parents know about translation and interpretation services, and where they can get them."
She also noted that 90 percent of the regional offices visited did not have the signs either.
"Parent cannot engage effectively if they cannot participate in their children schools," she added.
Rosa Vera, a mother and member of Make the Road by Walking, the organization sponsoring the demonstration, said "The department and the mayor have failed us in terms of language interpretation."
Other immigrant advocates say the problems are even more pronounced for languages other than Spanish, such as Mandarin Chinese and Bengali, which are two of the eight languages included in the translation regulation.
Deputy Chancellor Andres Alonso responded to the allegations, saying his department has been doing all it can to make sure the regulations are followed. The department allocated $7 million to help provide these services.
"The number of schools translations has increased from 600 or 700 to more than 3,000,"he said outside his office. He added that translation services by phone have also increased to by 700 percent, and that even high school directories are available in other languages.
His department has worked closely with the Immigration Coalition and Make the Road to insure immigrant parents receive adequate help. Alonso said he understands the system has to improve, but with one million students and almost a half-million parents, things can’t be perfect.
"As a person who came to this country without knowing any English, and whose mother still does not speak English, it is of my interest that this [regulations] is implemented in every school," he said.
Demonstrators are asking the department for accountability. They are recommending that every parent be informed that they are entitled to interpretation services and information in their native language.
"We are not going to stop until immigrant parents get these services because these are our rights and we want to make them valid," said Vera.