NYC Schools Face Language Hurdles

tuition bill for undocumentedWith some 180 languages spoken among its five burrows, immigrant parents of kids attending New York City public schools are struggling with staying involved in their kids’ education.  According to reported results of the New York Immigration Coalition, translation and interpretation services that are required by federal law and by the city’s own Department of Education (DOE) charter, the current status of offerings fall far short of what’s needed.

“We release this report with hopes that the DOE will take immediate action to address the serious language access barriers parents face when trying to engage in their children’s school lives,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the coalition. “Currently, the DOE has only two people who are responsible for monitoring and supporting more than 1,700 schools on translation and interpretation.”

Among the most critical first steps in addressing the issue, advocates say, is the need for a language access coordinator in each superintendent offices. The creation of this position would give district parents a central contract to which questions and requests for information can be directed.

To this suggestion, the DOE appears to be ready to move. In an e-mail, DOE reportedly has plans to reinforce the current programs.

“Chancellor (Carmen) Fariña has prioritized the expansion of access to all services in native languages,” a DOE e-mail is reported to say. “Additional funding has been allocated over the next two years to support over-the-phone language services for parents in over 200 languages.

Immigrant parents say the holes in the DOE’s service offerings are glaring. For instance, in one districted located in Bronx, language services are available for those with kids at the elementary level, but nothing is offered at the Pre-K level.

For Bangladesh national Munni Akther, the mother of two daughters who arrived in New York a little more than a year ago, the issue is prohibitive to parental involvement.

“When I go to parents’ conferences, I never get answers to my questions because they don’t understand my broken English. I feel bad because I want to be involved 100 percent in my kids’ education and I can’t,” she said.