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New Report Shows Major Gaps in Access to Translation and Interpretation for Parents of New York City Students


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Press Contact: Thanu Yakupitiyage,  Main Phone: 212-627-2227 x235,  E-mail: tyaku@nyic.org
New York  (Tuesday, June 16, 2015)

New Report Shows Major Gaps in Access to Translation and Interpretation for Parents of New York City Students

Coalition’s Education Collaborative Releases Key Survey Findings, Calls on Department of Education to Take Immediate Action

Today the New York Immigration Coalition’s Education Collaborative released a new report with city-wide survey results showing major gaps in access to translation and interpretation services for parents in New York City’s schools. Advocates from across the City were joined by several New York City immigrant parents to release the results of the report and to call on Chancellor Fariña and the Department of Education (DOE) to address the lack of language access for school parents immediately.

The new report, The Great Parent Engagement Gap: Report on School Translation and Interpretation for NYC Parents, presents parent survey findings that:

  • Half of parents are missing critical information because it’s not translated or because they don’t have an interpreter.
  • More parents report never receiving services now than in 2007.
  • Parents are relying on children to interpret on a large scale despite the DOE’s own regulations prohibiting this practice in most settings.
  • Almost a decade after the Chancellor codified parental language access rights and formed a special unit, a large percentage of parents still don’t know that they can get translation and interpretation.
  • Lack of access to translation and interpretation greatly impedes parents’ ability to be engaged in their children’s education.

Nearly half of New York City public school students speak a language other than English at home, and more than 180 languages are represented. In New York City, translation and interpretation services should at least be available in the top 9 languages spoken – Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu – according to the Department of Education’s (DOE) own regulations. While parents have the right to translation and interpretation under federal law and the DOE’s own regulations, major barriers remain to receiving adequate services.

NYIC Education Collaborative members and parents from Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Arab American Association of New York, El Centro Del Inmigrante, and more attend today's press conference releasing the report on school translation and interpretation for New York City immigrant parents.

The Collaborative administered nearly 200 surveys of communities in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. Respondents were selected randomly outside of schools in communities following May 2015 parent-teacher conferences, outside neighborhood centers, and at community events where the NYIC’s Education Collaborative member groups work.“We release today’s report with hopes that the Department of Education (DOE) will take immediate action to address the serious language access barriers that New York City’s parents face when trying to engage in their children’s school lives,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “Currently, the DOE has only two people who are responsible for monitoring and supporting more than 1700 schools on translation and interpretation. This is unacceptable given almost half a million students speak a language other than English at home. We know that Chancellor Fariña, who has a strong commitment to parent engagement, will be just as concerned about our report’s results as we are. We look forward to working with the City to make schools more accessible institutions for immigrant parents and their children.”

The report is available at www.thenyic.org/reports/parentengagement.

Several New York City Council Members joined the NYIC’s Education Collaborative in calling for immediate action.

"More needs to be done to make sure our immigrant families receive the services they are entitled to through the Department of Education," said NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm. "While I applaud the recent steps taken by Chancellor Fariña and Deputy Chancellor Milady Baez to focus on parent engagement and ELL students, I urge the Department to speed up its efforts to ensure all our parents are included in their children's education."

Council Member Mathieu Eugene stated, “We are lucky to live in one of the most diverse cities in the world and we must ensure that all residents have access to the services they need. Many parents of our public school children don’t speak English and they need services in order to communicate with their children’s teachers. I support the New York Immigration Coalition’s request to the Department of Education to designate Language Access Coordinators in every superintendent’s office in order to provide more support for schools who are trying to connect parents with vital services.”

“New York City schools must do more to engage immigrant parents, and improving translation and interpretation services is an important first step,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “It is unacceptable that half of parents are missing information due to inadequate translation. This is a major barrier for immigrant parents who want to be fully involved and engaged in their child’s education, and we can do better. Expanded and improved translation services will ensure non-English speaking parents remain a valuable and important part of the City’s school community.”

"As a Council Member with many non-English speaking constituents, I have seen time and again issues with language accessibility for immigrant parents and children,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. “I have seen children translate for their parents in disciplinary situations and I have seen issues with automated language menus that require English to get to other languages. I thank NYIC for shedding a light on this very important issue. Language accessibility is essential to parent participation in schools, which is in turn essential to ensuring quality in children's education."

To release the report, advocates and New York City parents stood united in their call for immediate change to a system that is shutting immigrant parents out of participating in New York City schools, and effectively harming their children’s educational advancements.

“I am an active and engaged parent who is eager to help my children in their school life,” said Delfina Garcia, a parent with El Centro del Inmigrante. “I was horrified to find out that my children were going to be held back a grade and confused because in several parent-teacher conferences I attended, I was never told that my children weren’t doing well in school. I have not received any notices in Spanish from the school and was told that I had to bring my own interpreter for school meetings to discuss my children’s academic progress. This feels unfair because I believe with proper interpretation, I would have been able to help my children much earlier on. Proper translation and interpretation is critical for me to be involved in my children’s school lives.”

Munni Akther, a parent with Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) said, “Many times, when I have come to the school seeking help or information I am sent to someone, but they don’t understand me. After this I am sent to someone else, who then sends me to someone else again. I end up having to say the same thing to five different people but no one understands me!”

Delfina Garcia, a Mexican parent with El Centro del Inmigrante on Staten Island speaks about her experience without translation at her child's school. Kim Sykes, senior education manager at the New York Immigration Coalition discusses the results and recommendations in the report.

“When my youngest son started school I wanted to volunteer in his school. There were many Bengali parents and families whose children attend the school but the majority of them were not able to participate,” Gulshan Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi parent with Sapna NYC. “I learned that they did not feel comfortable and did not understand what was happening. I was asked to translate, but I did not get any training. I would help when I could but as the only Bengali speaking volunteer often I could not help all parents. Parents would ask for translators for parent teacher conference but I was there for my own child and could not volunteer. When we asked the school to provide translators they said they had no budget or that it would take too long on the phone.”

"Parents have a right to translation and interpretation services. Without access to high-quality translation and interpretation services, immigrant parents are being denied the opportunity to participate in their children's education,” Abja Midha, Immigrant Students’ Rights Project Director, Advocates for Children of New York. “Given the Chancellor's commitment to promoting parent engagement, and the findings in today's report, the Department of Education must prioritize the improvement of language access services that are offered to immigrant parents."

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The New York Immigration Coalition is an umbrella policy and advocacy organization for more than 165 groups in New York State that work with immigrants and refugees. The NYIC aims to achieve a fairer and more just society that values the contributions of immigrants and extends opportunity to all by promoting immigrants’ full civic participation, fostering their leadership, and providing a unified voice and a vehicle for collective action for New York’s diverse immigrant communities.



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