School board meeting protested

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.

Cora Lewis
Members of the group Teach Our Children protested during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.
Cora Lewis
Members of the group Teach Our Children protested during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

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.


  • solsbury

    Well, the group had already scheduled the protest party and promised parents they would get on TV… what mess it up with facts? Groups like this “helped” by outside organizers have to do these public stunts to justify their existence and get more funding for their Ivy league paid “advisors”… New Haven does more translation of more materials than any other town in the state… and the refusal of the bilingual parents in the group to help translate correctly at orientations just to make others look bad shows their real agenda…
    (by the way, tape over the mouths implies you were prevented from speaking, you weren’t!)

  • What about?

    It seems to me that this protesting group should be organizing english literacy classes for parents instead of wasting time parading around.

  • Supporter

    The timing of the action was brilliant. It should create a stronger leverage for the meeting. The organizers really know what they’re doing.

  • Mike

    I am sorry, but I have to say it. This is America, LEARN TO SPEAK ENGLISH!! Why should the school systems have to hire, and pay for, translaters when english is our primary language.

  • Proud Parent

    Parents are doing everything possible to be part of the school system. We want everyone to be included no matter what language they speak. We are in America and this is a country founded by immigrants.
    The tape on the mouth represents the times that parents went to the BOE public meetings and were told to be quiet and sit down until someone can assist them. The Board is always asking for parent involvement, but when they see this organized group of parents…they shut the doors on them and want to intimidate them. It’s not going to happen…WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!!!

  • Just The Facts

    Fact of the matter is that there are translation services upon request and translated documents in all public schools. So what is this protest really about? Publicity. People who want to be engaged in solutions don’t make noise. They put their heads down and work.

  • anonyk

    New Haven Public Schools already do a vast amount of translation into Spanish of the material provided to parents. Let me note parenthetically that the material provided (at least for the high schools) in general is uninformative about actual options, programs and personnel at the school your child attends, but does go into great detail about conduct codes and consequences for violating them, attendance policies, and trivia about how they calculate your child’s GPA.

    TOC have decided that the NHPS should spend even MORE money on translating these useless documents, instead of, say, maybe, hiring more teachers. Why should they get to decide this? The resources of the school system are limited, and spending more on Spanish translation means spending less on something else. I don’t hear them making any arguments about why this issue should be such a priority. I don’t actually believe for a minute that there are large numbers of Spanish-speaking parents in the New Haven School System who do not in fact comprehend perfectly adequately the material provided to parents.

    If they’re so concerned that significant numbers of Spanish-speaking parents in the school system need help understanding these documents, why don’t they spend the time they now devote to organizing to translating the documents themselves. They could even ask for a Dwight Hall sponsored community service group to help them do it.

  • solsbury

    Parents, including TOC groups, have spoken freely at every board meeting they’ve been at for the last two years… I’ve seen it. They’ve never been asked to stop (unless they’ve started to reveal individual confidential student/teacher information or issues that can’t be discussed in public… that’s a state law that you would think their paid advisors would help them with). No doors were shut, no intimidation has taken place.
    The point is that this “protest” was manufactured. At one of the schools mentioned, the principal personally asked the 6 parents from Spanish speaking households in his school if they would need translation, or whether a family member would be helping them.
    One of the parents mentioned has been observed speaking in English and Spanish on numerous occasions.
    Of course, parents have a right to be heard, and to ask for translation services at public meetings, and that’s a great discussion to have… WITH THE PRINCIPAL AHEAD OF TIME.
    All the “organizers” know is how to rile up parents on an issue to justify their jobs and funding and to get on TV.
    (The media was called Friday am to go to the protest, well before they had raised the issue with the system)

  • Jen

    Mike- I know, seriously. Learning a new language as an adult is totally a piece of cake, especially when you can’t afford language classes and you’re working multiple minimum-wage jobs. Any parent who hasn’t mastered English yet is clearly just lazy, and therefore doesn’t deserve access to information about his child’s education.

  • Shabang

    How many translators for illegal immigrant’s will the taxpayer now have to fund? It’s all political circus by the supporters of illegal immigration. Let the Yale Law Clinic provide free translation services, they protect the illegal community. I’m sure the countries these people come from supply numerous translators in thier schools.

  • common sense

    Because a person needs Spanish interpretation neither means they’re undocumented or “illegal” nor does it mean they’re not learning English. I, a fairly fluent Spanish speaker whose native language is English, would definitely be in the dark if they tried to speak to me in Spanish about this crucial information. The vocabulary of education can be tricky and to rely on family members and friends not to mention your own children to interpret for you is simply not always sufficient. Interpretation is a skill and needs a skilled person to carry it out fully.
    If all the materials were translated that’s great, but it’s not worth a whole lot if it didn’t reach the hands of the parents that needed them.
    If it’s out there and can be redistributed why does the district not simply do that rather than fighting these claims on message boards and mudslinging at NHPS parents?
    Not to mention this group is talking 1 meeting that happens once a year and is MANDATORY. They bothered to translate that to Spanish why not the meeting itself?

  • anonyk

    An immigrant who can’t rely on “family members and friends not to mention your own children” for translation and guidance in understanding the school system may as well just give up before s/he even gets out of bed — social context is EVERYTHING for successful aculturation.

    But the issue here is not really about Spanish-speaking immigrants. It’s about a group that wants to set mandates for a city’s school system without for a minute addressing the costs and benefits of imposing those mandates, the resources that would be pulled from other worthwhile projects to fund them, or the effectiveness of their proposed mandates in actually improving the lives of those they claim to represent. On a fair assessment of any one of those three measures, their proposals fail.

  • Claudia

    After all that mud-slinging, here some “un-messed up” facts (pay attention solsbury):
    – No TV-promise was made to any member. TOC parents showed up because a promise from the Superintendent was made and not kept.
    – TOC has no outside organizers. We have a little, underpaid, overworked staff, but they are with us and insiders. The leaders are we – the parents.
    – Of course the rally was planned in advance, of course parts of the media was informed via e-mail about the rally plans. But neither on “Friday am” nor “called” in its vastness. Where did you get this information from? Hmmm? You made this up and this is just about discrediting TOC – right?! And you have to trust me on the timing of the press information. I sent out the e-mail.

  • Still very nervous in public meetings

    26 % of New Haven students come from Spanish-speaking homes. This quota happened not over night. But the school district decided to play it down and slowly. The district’s webpage was not translated until this August (!) when TOC had to bring that up in a meeting with the Superintendent. Many schools with a high percentage of Hispanic kids do not hand out Spanish handbooks. And printed materials and handbooks (if available) do not help in an ongoing communication. Have you ever had to participate in a public meeting which is not in your native language and speak up?

    In addition teachers assign homework which requires help at home, a limited English speaker often cannot provide. Welcome to the achievement gap. There is barely any awareness at our schools that some kids are being left behind because their parents are being left out.

    In order to make the New Haven district the best urban in the US the district is willing to spend a lot of money. Translation is chump change in comparison. Do we know whether the restructuring will work, has there been a fair assessment and any proven effectiveness of the school reform initiative? Well known is the fact that good students have involved parents. So let them fully participate.

  • Ju

    Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act states that “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” The 1974 Supreme Court ruling, Lau v. Nichols, found that language-based discrimination is equivalent to national origin discrimination.

    The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires that local education agencies provide parents meaningful access to participation in the education of their children. (Title I, Sec. 1118)

    One could reasonably argue that NOT providing language assistance to these parents is discriminatory and a violation of their civil rights.