New Haven Public Schools officials say they are making progress with offering Spanish translation in public schools. But one New Haven grassroots organization rallied to say otherwise at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday.
In the surprise protest, about 30 volunteers from the group Teach Our Children called for more Spanish translations of school documents, such as parent handbooks and orientation materials, as well as more Spanish translators at school events. But school officials said plans for more translation services are currently in motion and that some of the services are already in place.
Superintendent Dr. Reginald Mayo sent an e-mail to the group’s leadership earlier in the day Tuesday saying he would be willing to meet next Monday to discuss translation services in the school system, Board President Carlos Torre said. Nonetheless, parents and children affiliated with Teach Our Children arrived at the board meeting. Some TOC volunteers sat in the meeting with their mouths covered in tape, while others spoke about their struggles as Spanish-speaking families to have a voice in the education system. And, before the meeting began, the volunteers protested outside the meeting place, holding signs and chanting slogans such as “Include everyone.”
“The issue of translation is undervalued and underestimated by the school board,” group leader Claudia Bosch said. “New Haven is leaving a quarter of the parents out of the equation.” Bosch said she has a son in the public school system.
Bosch said Mayo had committed himself to two goals in a meeting in October 2008 : offering a Spanish translation of the New Haven Public Schools Web site and providing translators at school orientations.
Although school officials did modify the Web site to include a Google Translate feature for Spanish, TOC members claimed that some school orientations lacked translators and some schools lacked translated documents.
“You want parents to be part of the school system?” organizer Megan Fountain said in her translation of a parent’s testimony. “Please give us the tools to let us do so.”
But school officials said the upcoming meeting symbolizes their willingness to reach out to TOC officials.
“The meeting will be very valuable, and hopefully both sides will stop making assumptions,” NHPS spokeswoman Michelle Wade said. “We would like to have parents like these working with us.”
Some school workers said they already translate many school documents into Spanish.
Employee Anthony Coppola said he and his colleagues delivered translations of orientation packets to all the schools in New Haven. And the system’s chief operating officer, Will Clarke, said the school board provides the code of conduct, transportation forms, health forms, information on the H1N1 virus and several other documents in Spanish.
“We have an obligation under the law to translate certain documents,” said Clarke. “We go above and beyond that.”
Torre, who is also a former assistant dean of Yale and member of the Psychology faculty, said he thinks the timing of the protest suggests that there is little trust between TOC and NHPS officials. He said at the meeting, in Spanish and English: “Thank you for reminding us of what is already in motion and of what has been promised.”
Bosch said previous scheduled meetings with Mayo had been unsuccessful, so her group volunteers decided to take more public action. But she added that they are now optimistic that school officials may provide more translation services in the future.
Teach Our Children, founded in January 2006, represents several hundred parents and volunteers in New Haven, according to the organization’s Web site.