Immigrant parents organize to maintain language services
by Willie Colon Reyes
Language access services are diminished this school year as a result of budget cuts, so parents and community groups are strategizing to ensure English language learners (ELLs) get needed supports.
The District has eliminated one language access coordinator position, 16 ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teachers, and 38 bilingual counseling assistants.
Karren Dunkley, deputy chief of the Office of Parent, Family, Community Engagement and Faith-Based Partnerships, said the District helped offset these cuts by hiring 31 bilingual school improvement support liaisons (SISLs), a new District position.
SISLs will work full-time at schools with high ELL populations and provide translation services and targeted support for bilingual families, including workshops and home visits.
Zac Steele of JUNTOS, an immigrant organizing group, said parents and students continue to mobilize around the issue.
Parents held a rally at South Philadelphia's Andrew Jackson Elementary in June to protest proposed reductions to the school's teaching and support staff.
"We know there have to be cuts, but we need to find other solutions and not cut programs and services that benefit families and students," said Mirna Ramirez, a member of JUNTOS' parent committee.
The District held community meetings last spring about its financial crisis, but activists said a lack of accurate information is a constant frustration.
"Every time we talk to the District, resources have been shuffled around," said Nancy Nguyen, Delaware Valley branch manager at Boat People SOS.
The community, Nguyen said, is watching that the District ensures compliance with a 1985 court order requiring it to provide adequate translation services to students and families.