Language issues may have impeded Stamford registration policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Apr 8 13:38:04 UTC 2005,0,684447.story?coll=stam-news-local-headlines
Copyright  2005, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

Language issues may have impeded Stamford public school registration

By Matthew J. Malone
Staff Writer

April 7, 2005

STAMFORD -- A language barrier may be partly to blame for the large number
of students who did not provide documentation proving residency during
last summer's school registration drive, district data suggests. Letters
sent to parents last spring about new registration requirements were
written in English. An analysis of the registration results based on the
language students speak at home suggests that a failure to translate the
letters contributed to the shortfall.

It also raises questions about the need for translation services in the
Stamford school district, where the foreign-speaking population grows
every year. A recent audit of Stamford's bilingual programs found that
while total enrollment has remained relatively steady, 150
English-speaking students are replaced each year by foreign speakers, most
of them Spanish.

Last summer, sixth- and ninth-grade students were required to show
documents, such as a deed and utility bill, to prove residency. The school
board implemented the policy in response to claims that many
out-of-district students were attending Stamford schools. Results of the
registration effort fueled the suspicions. As of March 17, nearly 261 of
the 2,248 students required to show documentation had not done so. Judith
Singer, the district's research director, said that, given the statistics,
the English-only letters may have played a role.

A breakdown of the registration results by the school district's research
office reveals that greater percentages of students from Haitian Creole-
and Spanish-speaking households failed to provide documentation compared
with their English-speaking classmates. Twenty-six percent of Haitian and
15 percent of Spanish students provided no documentation, compared to 11
percent of English-speaking students. Of the 2,147 students who have their
home language listed in the schools' database, the Haitian Creole- and
Spanish-speaking students account for 40 percent of the missing

Follow-up letters sent in mid-March to those without documentation were
translated into Spanish and Haitian Creole, Singer said. She is expectedto
update the Board of Education about the process by the end of the week. In
the bilingual audit, the consultant recommended that schools translate all
written materials. The district responded that it lacked the resources,
citing a cost of $25 an hour for a translator.  Annual costs were
estimated at $7,000. The money was not included in this year's budget

Curriculum Administrator Margaret Queenan said administrators and
principals rely on bilingual staff members and parents to translate
documents. At the central office, bilingual administrators translate
essential communications but it takes time away from other work, she said.
Some elementary schools employ bilingual parents as community liaisons and
they occasionally translate documents, Queenan said. The parents are paid
out of an elementary school grant.  Translation is not coordinated by the
central office and varies from school to school, she said.

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