Schools expand bilingual services
The Martha's Vineyard public school system will soon begin providing Portuguese translators at school meetings and bilingual versions of school notices, announcements and pre-recorded telephone messages.
School officials said the expanded language services are part of a system-wide policy change undertaken to accommodate the recent influx of primarily Portuguese-speaking Brazilian students and to comply with state and federal requirements.
School budgets for the 2007 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, will reflect the added expense of providing Portuguese translation services for Brazilian students and their parents and certified teachers. James Weiss, superintendent of Martha's Vineyard Public Schools, estimated the cost would be between $5,000 and $10,000 system-wide. He said a more precise figure is not available because of the shifting number of students and the services they might require.
"Federal law requires that we offer education to students with limited English proficiency. For us, that would be primarily Brazilian, and the language they speak is Portuguese," said Mr. Weiss, who was hired last summer to take over the Vineyard school system. "It is our obligation under the law and also the right thing to do."
Two school notices regarding the rights of parents and students with respect to information and privacy appear in both English and Portuguese versions in today's issue of The Times: the notification of rights under the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The notices refer to rights guaranteed by Department of Education policies.
"This is the first time this year I've put out an ad that was targeted at all parents, so I had it translated and published in both languages," Mr. Weiss said.
Debbie Hart, the school system's director of English language learning, said 109 students in grades K-12 are receiving her department's services.
School officials could not provide a precise tally of the number of students in need of bilingual Portuguese services. Currently, school officials keep track of the number of students requiring English as a Second Language services (ESL), but they do not break that group down into specific languages.
In response to questions from The Times, Ms. Hart was able to provide some initial numbers. She said that, of the English language learners at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), 42 were native Portuguese speakers, 6 Spanish, 1 Jamaican Creole, 1 Mandarin Chinese, 1 Swedish, 1 Vietnamese, and 1 West African. Chilmark has 5 Russian; Tisbury School, 51 Portuguese and 2 Spanish; West Tisbury, 2 Portuguese and 2 Hebrew.
Partial numbers provided for Oak Bluffs were 39 Portuguese, 3 Indian, 1 Uruguayan and 1 Korean; and Edgartown had 28 Portuguese, 2 French, 1 Spanish, and 1 Chinese.
Ms Hart said it is difficult to keep accurate counts of Brazilian students, because many of their families move often or return to Brazil for two to three months at a time during our winter, which is their summer.
Federal and state laws do not specify a minimum number of students at which a school system must provide translation services. Mr. Weiss estimated the Island's Brazilian student population at 100 to 125 and said that offering translation services in Portuguese serves the most needs.
Ms. Hart said students complete a home language survey asking if they need translated materials in order to comply with state regulations. "We are moving to a place where we will have to have everything translated for any language and provide services to all of those students. It is a funding issue," she said, pointing to future costs.
This fiscal year, school principals have been finding money wherever they can in their budgets for translation costs. "As we plan for next year, in every Island school's budget there is a small amount allocated for translation services. We have to have the funds to do that," said Mr. Weiss. The dollar impact, he said, "will be thousands of dollars, somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000, at least initially. We will have a better sense of it by the end of this year."
"There are three issues, financially," Mr. Weiss said. "You have to have a translator available at meetings, and you have to have documents translated into the other languages to publish them, which both involve fees. And the third issue is, you have to have teachers who are knowledgeable in teaching students with limited English proficiency. There is licensure or certification involved in that, as well."
The decision to provide Portuguese translations of school materials to Brazilian parents with school age children arises from Title VI of the Federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 contained under Massachusetts general law, according to a state DOE spokesman.
As Mr. Weiss explained, "The law requires that we do what we can to reach out to provide all students with an education. The second part of the federal rule, which the state enforces, is if we send home information to parents, that information should be in the parents' native language."
An on-site review last fall by federal education officials noted that the school system was not providing enough translated materials. "Since then, we also had a state Department of Education on-site evaluation, and they said, you've made progress, but you have got to do more," Mr. Weiss said.
Judi O'Donoghue of Oak Bluffs, MVRHS district school committee chairman, said of the two policies published today in Portuguese and English, "Anything like that down the pike, we will be doing the same."
David Rossi of Edgartown, a member of the MVRHS district school committee and chairman of the all-Island school committee, said that providing translation services district-wide makes sense. "We have to adapt to accommodate all students, and we are trying our best to address the needs of students and parents in the Brazilian community through better communication," he said.
The MVRHS 2006-2007 budget includes a line item allocating $2,000 for English as a Second Language (ESL) translations. Principal Peg Regan said that while a volunteer can help with translation at informal school meetings, a certified translator would be required for an individual education plan (IEP) meeting or disciplinary hearing attended by non-English speaking parents.
When it comes to translations, she pointed out that not only documents and school notices must be translated into Portuguese, but also recorded information on the high school's phone lines.
To provide specially trained teachers at the high school, for example, $46,559 was budgeted for the ESL teacher's salary next year and $20,000 for an assistant.
"We have about 50 English language learners at the high school," said Ms. Regan. "We probably have about 100 whose first language is not English but have a proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in English. We have students from Mexico, Ecuador, El Salvador, Brazil, Africa and Costa Rica."
Every Island school has one part-time ESL coordinator. According to Ms. Hart, there are 109 students Island-wide receiving ESL services.
"Brazilians are certainly the majority, but we have people coming from other countries, too," she said. These include Russian students in Chilmark, Vietnamese and Israeli students in West Tisbury, Chinese and Ecuadorian students in Edgartown, and Indian, Uruguayan, Colombian, and West African students in Oak Bluffs.
Once students become proficient in reading, writing, and speaking English, the school system continues to track them for two years after they exit the ELS program. If they need further help, they can reenter.
Several years ago, the Island's ESL programs were the subject of a federal probe that led to an agreement by Island elementary schools to improve ESL efforts.
In a resolution agreement concluded on May 2003 between the Vineyard elementary school administration and the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the Island schools agreed to an extensive series of changes in teaching and administrative procedures as well as the allocation of facilities and teaching materials to improve instruction for approximately 117 students with limited English proficiency.
The agreement followed a federal investigation into whether the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury schools failed to adequately provide appropriate educational materials and resources to Brazilian students. The investigation began after the OCR received a complaint from an Oak Bluffs parent.
Federal law requires that any programs for minority students have class space comparable to that allotted to any other program. As a result, the Tisbury School was required to move ESL programs out of the library and into a leased modular classroom set up on the school playground.