Parents from immigrant communities in South Philadelphia and other neighborhoods have mounted a campaign for the District to expand school-based staff to provide translation services.
Local organizations including JUNTOS/Casa de los Soles, SEAMAAC (Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition), and the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition say that one part-time "bilingual counselor assistant," available only one or two days a week, is inadequate for schools with dozens of immigrant families.
"If we had more interpreters, it would be a great benefit," Martha Lara, a parent at Southwark School and member of JUNTOS, said in April 23 testimony before the School Reform Commission.
"We would be more able to understand and communicate with teachers and explain to them the daily problems our children face. We would also be able to better understand the announcements and forms sent to us by the schools," she added.
The SRC heard testimony from both Mexican and Southeast Asian immigrant parents about how language and cultural issues cause communications breakdowns between schools and parents.
The School District's Office of Language, Culture, and the Arts currently assigns 82 bilingual counselor assistants (BCAs) to about 150 schools. The BCAs support the District's 13,000 English language learner students and their families, translate school documents and announcements, and serve as liaisons between parents and the school. At least 16 languages are covered. Some BCAs serve a different school each day of the week.
Margaret Chin, OLCA's director, said no additional positions are budgeted for next year, but the District is continuing to discuss the issue with the groups representing immigrant families. District budget officials are exploring whether the School District has unspent federal Title III funds designated for services to immigrant families.