$12 million translation and interpretation program for immigrant parents of public school children is being significantly underutilized because few school personnel or parents know about it, immigrant advocates said yesterday. School officials said the number of schools using the program is rising.
The advocates say the February expansion of the program, which funneled millions of dollars into schools and increased the interpretation and translation services available at the Department of Education’s central office, has been meaningless because the city has not done enough to inform school employees and parents about the services available.
“It’s just not happening anywhere on the ground level,” the director of Training and Outreach for Advocates for Children, Gisela Alvarez, said.
The director of the Translation and Interpretation Unit, Kleber Palma, said that during the first month of classes, 90 schools have contacted the unit, compared with 200 throughout all of last year.
“Our phones are ringing quite often now,” Mr. Palma said.
The advocate groups said they have monitored high school enrollment sites since the beginning of the school year. They found some that lacked translated versions of documents such as immunization announcements and medical requirements. They also said they interviewed seven parent coordinators and found they were “typically” unaware of the requirements to provide translation and interpretation services.
A Colombian immigrant who is a parent of a 16-year-old girl, Victoria Valencia, 45, said in a telephone interview that she was unaware of her right to a translator until she went to a meeting at the Latin American Integration Center, an advocacy group.
She said her daughter wants to transfer from Newtown High School for security reasons, but when Ms. Valencia went to the school office to ask about it, she says she was turned away because no one spoke Spanish. Her daughter has not attended school this year.
“In that situation, you feel bad,” Ms. Valencia said.”I don’t want to her to go to a school like that.”
In 2004, the city set up a central office that schools could call for interpreter services or to which they could send documents to be translated. In February, under pressure from immigrant advocates, the mayor agreed to expand the program after he had previously threatened to oppose an expansion, which he said violated state laws.
This year, the department has sent numerous letters to superintendents, parents and principals about the expanded program.
“Our efforts to provide language access to parents are unparalleled nationwide and fully comply with the Chancellor’s Regulation,” a schools spokeswoman, Kelly Devers, said, referring to the expanded requirements enacted by the city in February.