Parents organize for Spanish-English translators in schools

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—The grassroots parent organization, Teach Our Children, rallied at the Board of Education recently to protest the lack of translators at mandatory parent orientations. The New Haven Superintendent Dr. Reginald Mayo promised Teach Our Children in an Aug. 5 meeting that he would provide Spanish translators at parent orientations in every school, beginning in the 2009-2010 school year. The promise was not kept, TOC charges. At least nine schools had no translator at the orientation, according to a preliminary survey conducted by TOC.

Twenty parents-members of TOC-rallied outside the Board of Education with their children and community supporters, chanting “Tear down the wall, Translate for all!” and “Dr. Mayo don’t wait, Educate, Translate!”

In order to demonstrate that parents were being left out, TOC entered the Board of Education public meeting with tape over their mouths.

Alberto Nieves, a TOC parent who was at the meeting with Dr. Mayo, testified to the Board of Education about his experience attending the parent orientation at his daughter’s school. “I was disappointed,” said Nieves. “Dr. Mayo had promised a translator, but there was none. The principal passed out a manual with basic information about school policies. It was in English only.” At Bishop Woods school 17% of the students come from Spanish-speaking households.

Lack of translators should concern all parents, according to Claudia Bosch, a parent leader of TOC. “Twenty-six percent of New Haven students come from Spanish-speaking households,” Bosch said. “Thousands of children are missing out on educational opportunities, because their parents are not in communication with the school. How can New Haven become the best urban district in the nation if a quarter of the parents are being excluded by not providing necessary translation?”

Nieves, who attends every parent meeting and speaks Spanish, agreed. “When I look at the achievement gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic students in New Haven, I get angry, because our schools can do better,” Nieves said. “There are so many parents like me who want to participate, who want to inform themselves, and who want the best education for their children. If there were translators, everyone would benefit.”

“It’s unfortunate that we have to protest to make our voices heard, but we have tried all other channels,” says TOC parent Nilda Aponte, an organizer of the protest. TOC parents have spoken with various administrators about the lack of translators.

In October 2008, TOC convened a meeting with 44 community members, including parents, clergy and aldermen, who urged Dr. Carlos Torre, currently the president of the Board of Education, to address the lack of translation services. “Everybody told us that we had to speak with the superintendent,” Aponte said, “so after calling attention to the issue for almost a year, we finally got a meeting with the superintendent in August. We proposed six things that would improve access for Spanish-speaking parents. He promised us two: translation of the NHPS web page, which he fulfilled, and translators at the orientations, which he did not fulfill.”

The TOC list of proposed improvements also includes the translation of all school documents and notices into Spanish, especially those that require a parent signature; Spanish translation at the public Board of Education meetings; the availability of interpreters in the school system and in each school; and finally a directory of interpreters who work for the district that would be available to parents.

Parent group TOC intends to continue the dialogue with the superintendent. Aponte explains, “During our Aug. 5 meeting, Dr. Mayo promised to consider the rest of our proposals and come up with a detailed plan. Yesterday, hours before our protest, he notified us that he would be available to meet with us again on Oct. 19. We are eagerly awaiting the implementation of our proposals. We will continue to press for these changes until all kids have equal opportunity in New Haven.”