the language gap

Advocates say online-only translated school guides limit choice

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 7.50.35 PMWhen students walked into the citywide high school fair last month, one of the first things they saw was a pile of colorful, phone-book sized directories listing more than 500 schools they can consider. But those guides were available only in English, as they have been for the last several years.

To some extent, New York City faces an intractable challenge in trying to give families information in their own languages. About 42 percent of city students speak a language other than English at home, and students speak 185 different languages, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office.

The Department of Education posts translated guides to elementary, middle, and high schools online in nine of the most commonly spoken languages. But parents, advocates, and guidance counselors say not having printed versions creates a barrier for parents whose access to information is already limited.

“This sends a message that people who don’t speak English aren’t as important, because the guide isn’t available to them in the same way,” said Elsa Cruz Pearson, a staff attorney at the Immigrant Students’ Rights Project.

The department stopped printing copies of translated directories after the 2007-2008 school year. For a time, it distributed disks with translated guides but now simply makes them available for download online.

That can be a problem for immigrant families, said Pearson, who has gotten calls from families seeking translated directories. “Many immigrant parents are not computer literate,” she said. “They don’t have computer in the home where they can jump on and start downloading guides in their languages.”

And the translated guides are not always completed quickly or easy to find once they are released. As of this week, the high school directory page on the department’s website includes a link to last year’s translations, while this year’s translations can be found on a different page. And 18 out of 63 sections are still missing, including the Manhattan section in Spanish; four parts of the Arabic section, including the introduction; and the entire Urdu version.

A department spokesman said translations were made available earlier this year than in past years, and that the remaining translations would be released soon. He said that the formatting of the directory can be particularly hard to replicate in languages, such as Urdu, whose letters are written right to left.

At last week’s City Council hearing on education, several council members raised the issue of delayed translations of other documents, such as the educational impact statements the department must produce when it proposes school co-locations and closures. Chancellor Dennis Walcott praised the department’s translation unit but said translation takes time, particularly for long documents.

Megan Moskop, a teacher and high school coordinator at a middle school in Washington Heights, said department officials delivered a similar message at a training she attended last week. But, she said, barriers to information about school options undermine the system of choice championed by the Bloomberg administration. “The DOE is all about, this is about choice, it’s about choice,” she said. “But not everyone has the same access to information about their choices.”

Educators, parents, and advocates have come up with various workarounds. Moskop said her school prints a few copies of the translated guides to share with parents who need them. But that can’t happen until they are available, which is after the English guide is released — something Moskop said gives English-speaking families an automatic leg up in the school selection process.

“The advantage is that over the summer you have time to sit down with your kid and look over [the directory],” she said about using the annual high school guide.

At P.S. 253 in the Bronx, PTA President Rosalie Mendez said she plans to ask the principal to request bound copies of the Spanish translation of the district’s middle school directories. Parents at the school have been calling her to ask for translations, she said.

Pearson, the attorney at the Immigrant Students’ Rights Project, said she has seen a few some enrollment offices print out the translations, but that the copies are limited and worn out. She said the department should at least make bound copies available in the borough enrollment offices, schools, and district offices, using data that already exist to identify which languages non-English speaking parents are most likely to speak in each district.

And Josmene Guerrier, a youth organizer at the Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project in Brooklyn, accompanies recent immigrants to enrollment centers at the start of the school year. She says she sees then become more assertive about their preferences after reading the directories in Haitian Creole using computers at her office.

Guerrier said she missed out on feeling the same sense of connection when she moved to New York from Haiti 10 years ago, when she was 17, even though the city was still printing translated directories at the time.

“Most of the time the information was in English and you don’t know what’s going on,” Guerrier said. “You do not understand.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.