For years, advocates and community-based organizations have urged the New York City Department of Education to increase the translation and interpretation services to public school parents and guardians with limited English proficiency. 

Last week I was honored to join NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, a true champion for the immigrant community, to announce a series of initiatives aimed at easing language access for parents in schools.

We want our elected parent leaders to be representative of our diverse school system and want to make sure they are able to communicate among themselves no matter the language they speak.

- Stephen Choi

Immigrant families face tremendous obstacles — speaking to their child’s teacher or principal should not be one of them. With nearly half of public school students in New York City speaking a language other than English at home, it is essential that these families have the ability to participate in their child’s school lives. 

That’s why the New York Immigration Coalition and our Education Collaborative of member organizations representing Asian, Arab, Caribbean, African, Latino, and other immigrant families, launched our “Build the Bridge” campaign that advocated for increased translation and interpretation for immigrant parents.

And we are grateful that the Department of Education has stepped up and heard our calls. The DOE’s language access expansion efforts are a significant step that will help notably reduce language gaps in our schools. The expansion includes the creation of nine new full-time positions in the Borough Field Support Centers and Affinity Groups that will determine the specific needs of each NYC school, and build the necessary supports so that parents receive quality translation and interpretation services.

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The expansion also includes new direct access to over-the-phone interpreters available after 5 p.m. In the past, schools had to contact the Translation and Interpretation Unit, which then connected the call — a step that has been eliminated. This will help reduce wait time for an interpreter, and allow teachers and staff to call non-English speaking families after business hours. Interpreters are available in 200 languages. 

In addition, starting this month, members of the Citywide and Community Education Councils will also receive additional language support. We want our elected parent leaders to be representative of our diverse school system and want to make sure they are able to communicate among themselves no matter the language they speak.

Having the ability to communicate with parents in a language they understand and in a timely fashion is key to the DOE’s efforts. We will continue working to ensure that immigrant students and parents are provided with culturally competent services to further strengthen this bridge to immigrant families that the DOE with help and support from advocates has built. We celebrate this groundbreaking accomplishment and thank Chancellor Fariña and the DOE for their continued efforts to improve services for immigrant families all across our City.

Steven Choi is executive director of the NY Immigration Coalition.

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