Equity & Diversity

New York Expands Services for Families Who Speak Little or No English

By Corey Mitchell — March 10, 2016 2 min read
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New York City school district parents who speak little or no English now have around-the-clock access to interpretation services in about 200 languages.

The district rolled out the new service in December.

During the first two months of parents having direct access to over-the-phone interpreters, the number of service requests has increased 55 percent over the previous two-month period. The district also had a slight increase in the number of requests for interpreters at school board meetings and community meetings.

The district already offered in-school translation and interpretation in a number of languages, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, and Spanish among them.

The change allows parents, for the first time, to access the service after 5 p.m.; the district anticipates the expanded hours and new staff should help reduce wait times for interpretation and translation services.

The district has also added nine new employees to ensure that parents with limited-English proficiency know and understand what’s going on with their children’s education.

Led by the district’S Translation and Interpretation Unit, the expansion is part of Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s effort to enhance services for English-language-learner students and their families. More than 40 percent of the city’s public schools children come from homes where English is not the primary language.

“New York City represents a wealth of different cultures, languages, traditions, and beliefs,” Fariña said in a statement. “Increasing translation and interpretation services to families is a top priority, and a critical part of building strong relationships between schools and communities.”

Before the district set up a centralized office more than a decade ago, most non-English-speaking families were forced to rely on bilingual acquaintances, or their own children, to translate documents, forms, and notes from schools.

Immigrant advocates and civil rights organizations have praised the decision. The district has families that speak at least 180 languages, said Kleber Palma, the director of New York’s Translation and Interpretation Unit.

Palma’s unit has budgeted $400,000 annually for the over-the-phone service, in cooperation with other district offices. He said the district won’t know more about the budget impact until they have more data on call volume and the number of languages accessed.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.