Non-English speaking immigrants say they feel they cannot participate in their children’s education solely because of language barriers that were exacerbated by the pandemic and by returning to classes in person.
He told the Associated Press that children must have translators, even if that is prohibited by federal law; That telephone conversations have poor translations and that there is poor communication regarding bullying episodes. Experts say the phenomenon is not limited to Philadelphia and that schools in many districts do not have good systems to meet the needs of people who do not speak English.
Philadelphia education officials say they have made progress, including sending information in parents’ languages and hiring dozens of interpreters called “bilingual cultural assistants.” They also make sure the district has guidelines on how to request help in each person’s language.
However the problem remains as it is.
An immigrant who identified herself only as Mandy and asked that her last name not be used said she had trouble sending her 10-year-old son with special needs, back to individual classes, but decided to That virtual education did not offer adequate support for non-English speaking parents.
She indicated that her main problems surfaced during special education meetings at her son’s old school. He still spends hours translating information into Mandarin as the school provides some translations of his material.
During one meeting, a telephone translator said she was not well versed in special education and refused to translate, so Mandy began to bring in a bilingual friend to help her. On another occasion, a translator told Mandy that her son would be taught to “eat meat,” to which his friend intervened and clarified that they were talking about feeding therapy.
“It sounds kind of weird, but it was actually very depressing,” Mandy said in Mandarin through an interpreter. “This would give the impression that immigrant parents have been deliberately excluded and marginalised.”
Jenna Monley, deputy chief of the school district’s Office of Family and Community Liaison, said the agency has instructed school staff to begin offering in-person interpreters for special education meetings whenever possible. He said staff are trained to deal with these situations, but annual refresher and refresher courses are not required for most teachers.
“I think there are always going to be different breakthroughs. But there are some areas where we need to improve,” Monley said.
Together, an organization of Latin American activists in Philadelphia conducted a study on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Its executive director Erica Guadalupe Nez said that in addition to the basic needs, education was a major concern, which only included communication with teachers. Speak English.
He said education is an enduring concern, including the fact that children are asked to translate for parents.
“We want children to be children. That they are in classrooms and that English-speaking children have equal opportunities to learn English,” Nunez said.
The Office of the Department of Civil Rights Education receives dozens of language-related complaints from immigrant parents each year. In 2015, it issued guidance on the legal obligation to communicate with parents in their language, emphasizing that neither students nor non-bilingual staff should act as translators.
Monley said her district has 101 bilingual cultural assistants after hiring 45 others in recent years. They serve 108 of the 224 schools, but many move from one school to another.
Philadelphia Councilor Helen Jim, an education and immigration rights advocate, says she wants interpreters to be in every school, every day.
“There is a long way to go before clearly delineated rules on access to other languages are met,” he said.
Jim said the number of bilingual cultural assistants was cut around 2011, after immigrant families were often overlooked and that the formula for allocating funding for education was drastically changed.
According to Jim, bilingual cultural assistants are still the only bilingual staff in schools, and they sometimes resolve situations outside of schools. But his basic salary is just $24,000 per year.
Olivia Ponce, 46, says she once tried to talk to a school counselor after another student hit her daughter, Olivia Vazquez. There was no interpreter on hand and the counselor asked the girl to act as a translator.
On another occasion, Ponce went to school because a boy had bitten his son. The teacher was not going to call him, but the other mother alerted him.
“He didn’t know he had certain rights and couldn’t kick a student out of his class to translate for us. Nor was he obliged to bring someone in to help us. He never told us ,” Ponce announced in Spanish.
Monley said the district can’t comment on specific complaints and that parents often don’t file complaints. Many parents, on their part, said that the school staff never informed them that there is a formal process to file a complaint.
Experts say that school districts everywhere have seen an increase in the number of non-English speaking students and parents. A researcher on this topic, Dominic J. Ledesma said many districts try to offer the services required by laws without thinking about making schools a more receptive place for immigrant families.
“Compliance with laws and civil rights,” he argued, “is just as important as issues of equality. Those issues are broad and systematic in nature, and are not limited to Philadelphia.”
Vazquez, who turns 27 today and is about to become a teacher at Swarthmore College, says she wants to help foreign students find more support.
Vazquez said, “I wanted to do it because of my experience and because I needed someone who had a similar physique to mine, who would tell me everything was fine and make me feel proud of my roots.”