Seattle Parents Advocating for Better Language Services for Immigrant Families

A group of parents in Washington State have formed an immigrant-rights group called OneAmerica. The group has recently called on local school boards to institute new policies which will make language service availability and bilingual education a priority.

Apparently, this is a big deal as approximately 25 percent of all students in the Seattle Public School system live in families whose native language is something other than English. Even if the children learn English and speak it well, immigrant parents will still struggle with it—and that can make it difficult to relate with their elementary school student when it comes to things like school/homework.

ImmigrantOf course, federal law requires that all of the most important communication between schools and the families who attend them will be conducted in English as well as a student’s home language so that parents can be as meaningfully involved as possible. Still, many immigrant parents in Seattle (and other South King County) districts argue that these services are not, in fact, consistently and/or readily available.

As such, the advocacy group is addressing the school board; and OneAmerica education policy director Roxana Norouzi notes “It is a very complex thing, but often our community members have the answers.”

For example, native Spanish-speaking parent, Teresa Garcia, argued to the Federal Way School Board, “We do not want to share all of that important information with somebody who probably doesn’t understand the vocabulary.”

Originally from Mexico, Garcia moved to Federal Way—via Arizona—in 2012. At the time she was still learning English; but in Arizona, bilingual school staff is far more common than it is in Federal Way. And so, she says, “That is another thing we are advocating for: interpreters who have the right level of knowledge to be able to help the parents correctly.”

At the Federal Way School Board meeting, Garcia started her commentary with a few phrases in Spanish and then switched to English so the English-speaking board members could appreciate the experience of being addressed in a language they do not speak.

“If you don’t know that feeling,” she says, “you will never understand how immigrant parents feel when we do not understand anything.”