New law guarantees interpreters for parents, but schools concerned about cost
Soon, thousands of parents who don’t speak English will have an easier time talking to their kids’ teachers. Lawmakers recently passed a new Multilingual Bill of Rights, guaranteeing parents an interpreter in whatever language they speak.
“IT’S DIFFICULT FOR ME”
Minerva Antigua, of Bridgeport, loves showing off pictures of her 10-year-old son. He’s not just a student, but also her translator.
“It's difficult for me because I don't speak English, and my son's school principal does not speak Spanish,” she said through an interpreter.
But things will soon get a lot easier.
The new law guarantees parents a translator for all school communications, including Board of Education meetings. They will get a school orientation in their native language and schools are now banned – in state law – from asking for proof of citizenship to enroll.
The changes impact nearly 50,000 students classified as English Language Learners. That number has jumped 30% in just five years, according to the state Department of Education.
“We're glad you're here in Connecticut,” Gov. Ned Lamont told advocates in Bridgeport on Wednesday. “We've got a job for you here in Connecticut.”
How much all this would cost is still unclear, according to a nonpartisan fiscal analysis. And that has some school systems concerned.
"There are 95 different native languages, according to the state Department of Education,” Lon Seidman with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education told lawmakers in February. “So it may be difficult to find a certified translator in each of those languages.”
The new law allows schools to hire online translators, but they can still be expensive.
“Yes, it's going to be a mandate on your school. You have to pay for it,” said state Rep. Antonio Felipe (D-Bridgeport). “But these have to be scheduled in advance. So if you have multiple students that speak a certain language, you can do that session with multiple students.”
Many of the Multilingual Bill of Rights’ mandates are already required – either through existing laws, state regulations or U.S. Supreme Court rulings. But Antigua said, in practice, compliance is spotty.
“I know that, even after it becomes law, we're going to have to still make sure that it's being implemented,” she said.
State education officials will now craft the actual guidelines. The new Bill of Rights goes into effect for the 2024-25 school year.