Updated 05/09/2012 09:52 PM
Spanish-speaking families claim discrimination in Wake schools
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WAKE COUNTY - Two advocacy groups have threatened to file civil rights complaints against the Wake County Public School System.
Advocates for Children's Services (ACS), a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) claim parents with limited english skills are being discriminated against because the school system doesn't provide them with important school documents about their children in Spanish.
WCPSS has 21,960 Hispanic students and 11,581 limited English proficient students.
Elvira Hernandez is one of the thousands of parents who don't speak English. That makes it difficult for her to communicate with school administrators about her sixth-grade son, who has been having problems in school and was suspended.
Hernandez said although she had an interpreter for some of the meetings with administrators, most of the paperwork dealing with the suspension was in English, which she couldn't read or understand.
She spoke with News 14 Carolina through an interpreter.
“I felt humiliated,” she said.
Attorneys with ACS believe this is a recurring problem for limited English families in WCPSS, violating state and federal laws.
“The school system is required to provide this information in Spanish,” said attorney for ACS Peggy Nicholson.
School system leaders say until now, they have not received any complaints about their interactions with Spanish speaking families. They say they provide forms in Spanish, make interpreters available, and try to reach out to limited English families.
“We would like to find out exactly what did happen so we could correct any errors on our part,” said Senior Administrator for Family and Community Engagement with WCPSS Maria-Rosa Rangel. “We definitely want to make sure the school administrators understand we have interpreters available as well as all this information in Spanish.”
The advocacy groups want Wake schools to change their policies and procedures to ensure parents are always given written information in their primary language. The groups say they are prepared to file a formal complaint with the Office of Civil Rights with the US Department of Education if the school system doesn't address their concerns.
The school system said it is trying to reach out to the un-named families in the complaint to remedy the situation. Superintendent Tony Tata released the following statement: We have been proactively engaging all students and families in the Wake County Public School System, including those in the Latino community. As a district, WCPSS has developed relationships with key community groups, leaders and media partners to support the needs of our Spanish-speaking families. From our Spanish-language Parent Academies to our recent International Family Conference, we continue to engage families and communicate with them in ways that lead to understanding.