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Parents win commitment to more bilingual services

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Latino parents in South Philadelphia, working through the organization JUNTOS/Casa de los Soles, won a commitment from District officials to provide better interpretation services for non-English-speaking parents in schools at a Nov. 9 public action at Annunciation Church.

With 200 parents and supporters from a coalition of groups in attendance, immigrant parents such as Rita Banegas from JUNTOS called upon District leaders to tackle “language barriers that have made it difficult to have good communication between parents and schools in our area.”

“Parents don’t go to meetings with principals, not because they’re not interested, but because when they show up, they don’t understand what’s said,” explained another parent, Martha Lara, who has two children at Southwark Elementary.

Testifying in Spanish, parents spoke about encountering language barriers when filling out school registration forms that are in English only, arranging for special education services, or getting information about schedules and student activities.

District officials including Chief of Operations Tomás Hanna signed an agreement, co-signed by JUNTOS parents, pledging to increase the number of bilingual counseling assistants (BCAs) to provide interpretation services at schools in the region and promising to keep the community informed on their deployment and training. The agreement also calls for an overall increase in bilingual staff in the South region and for regular meetings and reports addressing the quality of services to ELL families. The District says it is creating a new office of translation services and is in the process of hiring 14 new Spanish-speaking BCAs districtwide.

Hanna told parents that services would be improved for all language groups citywide, not just in South Philadelphia, and added that he hoped that with improved translation services in place, “later we can have a good conversation about the academic program.”

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