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Coalition and Public Advocate Call on Department of Education to Help Schools Provide Translation and Interpretation for Parents


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Press Contact: Thanu Yakupitiyage,  Main Phone: 212-627-2227 x235,  E-mail: tyaku@nyic.org
New York  (Thursday, October 1, 2015)

Coalition and Public Advocate Call on Department of Education to Help Schools Provide Translation and Interpretation for Parents

 Coalition’s Education Collaborative Calls on Department of Education to Take Immediate Action and Include New Monitoring & Support Role in Restructured School Support System

(New York, NY) Today on the steps of City Hall, dozens of advocates gathered alongside immigrant parents, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, and City Council Member Mark Levine to underscore the critical need for language access coordinators to monitor and support schools as part of the newly restructured Department of Education (DOE) school support system. The New York Immigration Coalition’s Education Collaborative is calling on the Department of Education (DOE) to include support for schools to help them overcome language barriers faced by immigrant parents.

The Collaborative has noted that while the DOE goes through an overhaul of the school support system, translation and interpretation support for schools is yet to be incorporated. This impacts half of all public school students, making up over half a million families.

In a statement, Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “Like all families in the NYC public school system, immigrant parents want their children to have a good education. They, too, want to be involved with their children’s schools but often don't receive translation and interpretation services schools are required to provide. As a result, their children are lagging behind. With the recent restructuring of the school support system, the Department of Education (DOE) has a great opportunity to remedy this through including a language access coordinator in each Borough Field Support Center. We look forward to working with the City to make sure we give our schools the help they need to engage parents meaningfully as soon as possible, so families don't miss out on another school year."

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. Currently, the DOE has only two people who are responsible for monitoring and supporting more than 1700 schools on translation and interpretation.

Joining the Coalition, Public Advocate Letitia James said, "For years, hundreds of thousands of public school parents are missing out on critical information about their child’s education simply because they speak a language other than English. We cannot allow linguistic barriers to prevent parental involvement. As the Department of Education undergoes an ambitious restructuring, we need to make sure we are providing the translation and interpretation services that so many immigrant parents need. Our public schools must provide equal opportunity for all students and families - no matter where they are from, or what language they speak at home."

Public Advocate Letitia James speaks in support of New York City immigrant parents in need of translation and interpretation in NYC schools. 

 The New York Immigration Coalition’s Education Collaborative is calling for a language access coordinator to be placed in each Borough Field Support Center to:

  • Distinguish which schools need support on translation and interpretation.
  • Identify successes and gaps to help schools recognize what’s working and where they need help.
  • Support schools in need of translation and interpretation.
  • Ensure that parents get quality services.

Council Member Mark Levine stood with advocates in support of this call. He said, “New York City is the most multilingual city on earth, but lack of interpretation services in our schools remains a significant barrier for immigrant parents. For so many immigrant parents, translation services are critical to their ability to be involved in their children’s education. We can ensure that non-English speaking parents remain engaged in our school community by ensuring the DOE has the infrastructure in place to meet the needs of a growing and diverse city.”

Council Member Mark Levine urged the DOE to provide adequate access to translation and interpretation for immigrant parents. 

Several immigrant parents emphasized why they need translation and interpretation to better support their children.

"Anhar, my daughter, started coming home with documents that the teacher instructed to give to her parents - only to find out that these documents were of no use to me, they were in English,” said Etifaq Musleh, parent with Arab American Association of New York. “Later that year, Anhar came to me asking to be part of the extracurricular activities so she can spend more time with her friends. I went to school to make my daughter’s wish come true only to be met with disappointment as the deadline passed, they told me “we sent home the sign-up sheets.”

Etifaq Musleh, a parent with Arab American Association of NY speaks. Behind her are dozens of immigrant parents and advocates (left). Veronica Aparicio, a parent with MASA, speaks about the difficulty of accessing Spanish-language translation and interpretation in her child's school (right).

I consider myself an active parent that participates in the school, but I can’t always express what I think or feel because there aren't always people around that understand Spanish” said Veronica Aparicio, parent with MASA. “I just want the best for my children and to work with teachers so that my kids can take advantage of all the opportunities that are available to them. I know that if there were better translation services then I would be much more involved in their schools.”

“I regularly attend parent-teacher conferences, information sessions and workshops at my children’s schools. The schools make no effort to provide interpreters for me or other parents who need it” said Shamsun Nahar, parent with Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM). “This results in our inability as parents to discuss important concerns about our kids’ education with the teachers.”

Shamsun Nahar, a parent with DRUM speaks about the lack of Bangla translation in her child's school (left). Max Ahmed, senior education advocacy associate at NYIC, calls on the DOE to provide adequate translation and interpretation support (right).  

NYIC Education Collaborative members also stood in unity.

“The Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) is pleased Chancellor Farina is increasing efforts to streamline student and parental support systems,” said CACF executive director Sheelah Feinberg. “Currently, 1 out of 5 Asian Pacific American (APA) youth is an English Language Learner, and APAs in NYC have the highest rates of being foreign born at 80%. Providing the adequate translation and interpretation, immigrant parents will proactively engage in their children's schools. We must ensure that all parents are included to the success of their child's education.”

"The Arab American Association of New York represents students and parents from 23 countries whose languages and dialects vary significantly. All too often, Arabic translations in our schools are totally non-existent, or lack the accuracy and the nuance needed to effectively engage the Arab-American and Arab-immigrant community,” said Linda Sarsour, executive director of Arab American Association of New York. “We urge the Department of Education to ensure our schools remain accessible and accountable to all New Yorkers by enacting comprehensive language access in NYC schools."

"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,” said Abja Midha, immigrant students’ rights project director at Advocates for Children of New York. “The DOE must ensure that the newly restructured Superintendent offices and Borough Family Support Centers make sure that schools meet their language access obligations.”

Aracelis Lucero, executive director of MASA, said “At MASA, we see firsthand how committed immigrant parents are to their children's education, and how much they want their children to succeed in school. We also see schools routinely fail to provide even basic language access to immigrant parents. When parents are literally unable to communicate with school staff, they are cut off from being effective partners in their children's education. New York City schools need to honor city policy and provide language justice for our communities.”


The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) is an umbrella policy and advocacy organization for nearly 200 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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