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Translations For Students' Parents Sought


February 20, 2004
Copyright ©2004 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

A coalition of advocacy groups called yesterday for the city Department of Education to set up a vast translation network for the non-English-speaking parents of city schoolchildren.

The groups, led by the New York Immigration Coalition and Advocates for Children, also released the findings of a survey indicating that many immigrant parents are often kept in the dark about messages and school meetings critical to their children's future.

"The New York City school system has systematically failed to provide translation and interpretation services to parents who require these services," the report reads. "Despite numerous federal, state and local laws mandating translation and interpretation for parents with limited English proficiency, the New York City Department of Education has yet to adopt policies and procedures to address these issues."

At a news conference in Manhattan, several parents, speaking through translators, described their ordeals.

Ana Cartagena, a mother of eight from Puerto Rico who lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said she was once told by a principal that if she wanted to know what was going on in her children's school, she should learn to speak English.

Maria Llivicura, another parent, said her daughter Melissa was held back last year but she was never given a clear explanation, in Spanish, as to why.

Advocates for immigrants have long complained about the dearth of translation services in city schools. In fact, they had cause for celebration three years ago, when, after years of pressure, the Board of Education adopted a resolution calling for a new systemwide translation and interpretation policy, based on the recognition that "communicating with parents is a fundamental component of their children's overall academic success."

But the Board of Education was dismantled as part of the recent reorganization of the school system before anything significant was done, the advocates said.

At the news conference, Margaret McHugh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, and Jill Chaifetz, executive director of Advocates for Children, praised Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for emphasizing parental involvement, particularly by placing a paid parent coordinator in each school. But without better translation services for PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences and informational notices, they said, much of that effort will go to waste.

Paul Rose, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said that many parent coordinators were bilingual and that language skills were taken into account when they were selected.

He said that parents who call the mayor's 311 hotline with school-related questions can get answers in other languages and that messages sent to parents from the chancellor are translated into eight languages: Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Urdu, Arabic, Haitian Creole and Bengali.

"We're interested in the proposals presented by Advocates for Children and the New York Immigration Coalition and will continue to work with them as we strive to continually improve our communication to students and their families," he said.

The report released yesterday surveyed 915 parents whose primary language was not English and 55 students from immigrant families. Eighty-six percent of the respondents live in New York City, while the others live in Westchester County and on Long Island. The surveys were conducted from October through January, and were distributed by community organizations.

Among New York City respondents, 51 percent said the parent never or rarely received written school information translated into his or her native language, while 9 percent reported that the parent always received such translations. Sixty-one percent reported that the parent never or rarely received oral interpretation services at school, while 7 percent reported that the parent always enjoyed such services.

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