Limited English proficient parents need support to access info about their children’s education

Preschool teacher, students in class, wearing masks
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More than a quarter-million New York City public school students do not have a parent who speaks English fluently, and its causing a communication breakdown with the Department of Education, according to Advocates for Children of New York (AFC).

AFC released a report highlighting this data while called on Mayor Eric Adams and the NYC Council to invest $6 million in the 2023 fiscal budget to establish a permanent and centralized system to support immigrant family communications at the Department of Education (DOE). 

In the AFC study, More than Translation: Multi-Faceted Solutions for Communicating with NYC’s Immigrant Families along with Census data, an estimated 55,585 students’ parents have no more than an 8th grade education in addition to not being proficient in English. A total of 329,000 public school students do not have a parent who speaks English fluently.

“Our on-the-ground experience working with families has shown us that many parents never receive critical information when it is only available via translated documents posted online,” said Diana Aragundi, staff attorney at AFC. “For example, we have worked with immigrant parents who primarily speak languages like Nahuatl or Mixtec and so are forced to rely on their second language, Spanish, in order to communicate with their children’s schools, even though they have limited literacy in Spanish.”

An estimated 29,608 students’ parents have limited English proficiency and communicate in a language outside of the top nine – Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu – into which DOE documents are routinely translated.

“My child’s school sends me information by email. I don’t know how to use email that well,” said Florentina, a Spanish-speaking parent of a 10- year-old in a Bronx school. “And the emails are always in English, even though the school knows I do not speak English. I have to ask my children for help to understand what the email says.”

The DOE has been meeting with a work group to determine the most effective uses for the $4 million it received last year and this important work requires funding to continue to support NYC families as they encourage their children to flourish academically.

While the 2022 fiscal budget included $4 million in one year funding for targeted outreach, Mayor Adams has not yet extended this into next year’s fiscal budget. If not renewed or adopted into the current proposed Executive Budget, funding for immigrant family communication could expire at the end of June.

However, DOE officials have said interpretation services are currently still available, and further funding is being sought for next year.

“This important 4-million-dollar initiative was made possible by 1 year funding,” one DOE spokesperson told amNew York on June 9. “We look forward to our continued partnership with the Council and appreciate their strong, ongoing support for multilingual learners and families who prefer to communicate in languages other than English. While we await further budget negotiations, every family has access to the DOE’s robust translation and interpretation services by way of translated family letters, over-the-phone interpretation services, and other helpful online resources.” 

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