Connecticut Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker testified before the Education Committee on Wednesday. CT-N

Last year, Flor Callazos’ oldest child graduated from a Bridgeport high school. 

But the time leading up to graduation left her angry and humiliated as she, a mother who doesn’t speak English, tried to navigate the process of college applications and scholarships.

School counselors wouldn’t meet with her, she said. She was kicked off a Zoom call with school officials after disclosing her immigration status, she said.

She soon moved to Trumbull, hoping the school system and its resources would be better for her 6-year-old daughter. 

That was until she received documents she couldn’t understand. After finding someone to translate the pages, she realized it concerned her daughter’s health. Without the translation, she wouldn’t have known.

Callazos was among several dozen advocates who spoke or submitted written testimony to the Education Committee Wednesday afternoon in favor of House Bill 6663, or the creation of a “bill of rights” for the parents of English language learners

The bill of rights would require that parents of an ELL student have the right for information to be communicated in the language instruction program that their child is taught in, in addition to the presentation and clarification of 17 rights, including that children may receive a free public education regardless of immigration status and that parents are able to request a qualified translator for “critical interactions.”

[RELATED: Measure offers ‘bill of rights’ for English language learners’ parents]

Other parents had stories similar to Callezos’.

Rosalina Rojano immigrated to the United States 27 years ago from Mexico. Her youngest child is a sixth-grade student in Hartford Public Schools. She said she wants to advocate for her son but feels she’ll never be able to because she doesn’t speak English.

“I have lost all confidence in the ability to call my child’s school because I know that there will never be anyone to talk to,” Rojano wrote in public testimony. “I want to learn more about the half days HPS has; I want to inform the school when my child is sick and can’t attend school, and I want to be able to call the school when something has happened in my child’s life and it may impact his education. I will never be able to do any of these because the school has no one that speaks my language” available to help.

And for Sayda Alverto, who lives in Bridgeport, she spent the last five years without knowing her son had been switched into regular instruction instead of classes for English language learners.

No one had told her about the switch, and she says she never received progress reports regarding her son’s success or if he’s doing well in his classes.

The hearing opened with comment by state Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker, who voiced her support for the bill, saying the legislation could help Connecticut’s growing ELL population of over 45,000 students.

“A cornerstone of the work of the agency has always been to ensure educational access and opportunity,” Russell-Tucker testified. “To achieve this goal and meet the needs of English Learner/multilingual learners, it is imperative that we build the systemic supports in this proposed bill at the local level.”

Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, had concerns about the bill, including what it means to have a qualified translator and how to establish reliable resources to help non-English-speaking parents, especially if it’s a language other than Spanish.

“One of my concerns is the amount of people we have to perform these services,” Carney said. “In one of my towns, there’s a large Brazilian community, and their first language is Portuguese. Sometimes, from what I’m told, it can be difficult to find the amount of people really necessary to help the number of children who speak Portuguese as their first language. And there’s a whole array of languages students speak primarily.”

Russell-Tucker countered that for some districts, language barriers aren’t a “new situation” and something they’ve been working on combating for years.

“This bill is making sure we’re solidifying that focused conversation,” she said. “It’s about not making excuses for supporting our English language learners in our state.”

Rep. Antonio Felipe, D-Bridgeport, who co-sponsored the bill, also had a similar sentiment as Carney and asked the Department of Education if it would be willing to work with lawmakers to ensure if a school district didn’t have the right resources, that they’d be able to rely on neighboring towns. 

“That’s something we’d certainly work with our districts on and continue to have those conversations because it is important,” Russell-Tucker said.

Alongside HB-6663, lawmakers heard testimony regarding four other bills:

  • House Bill 6662 – An act implementing the Governor’s budget recommendations concerning education;
  • House Bill 6686 – An act implementing the recommendations of the office of early childhood;
  • Senate Bill 1028 – An act implementing the recommendations of the Department of Education;
  • Senate Bill 1029 – An act concerning the legislative commissioners’ recommendations for technical revisions to the education and early childhood statutes.
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Jessika Harkay

Jessika Harkay is CT Mirror’s Education Reporter, covering the K-12 achievement gap, education funding, curriculum, mental health, school safety, inequity and other education topics. Jessika's experience includes roles as a breaking news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Hartford Courant. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Baylor University.