Student teacher Olivia Vazquez hopes to help make sure immigrant students arriving in Philadelphia have a more supportive experience in school. -AP
Philadelphia parents who don't speak English say they've long been excluded from parts of their children's education because of language barriers, something exacerbated by the pandemic and the return to in-person learning.
Parents told The Associated Press about students being used as translators despite federal prohibitions, incorrect telephone translations and poor communication about bullying. Experts say many other school districts have lagged in creating equitable systems for non-English speakers.
Philadelphia school officials said there has been progress, including sending communication in parents' languages and hiring dozens more in-school interpreters called bilingual cultural assistants, or BCAs. They also said the district has robust guidance on requesting language help.
Still, problems persist.
Mandy, who asked the AP not to use her last name, struggled with returning her 10-year-old special needs son to in-person school but decided the virtual option didn't offer enough support for parents who don't speak English.
Mandy said her biggest language struggles were during special education meetings at her son's previous school. She still spends hours translating reports into Mandarin because the district provides limited translations.
During one meeting, a telephone translator said she was unfamiliar with special education and refused to translate, so Mandy started bringing a bilingual friend to help. Another time, a translator told Mandy staff were going to teach her son to "eat meat," which her friend corrected, explaining they were discussing feeding therapy.