Gov. Ned Lamont gave a nod of approval Monday morning to House Bill 6663, which would guarantee non-English-speaking parents the right to certified translators for “critical interactions” with school personnel.
“I have to make sure that each and every one of your kids know they are welcome in our schools, no questions asked. … I want mom and dad to be able to communicate with the teacher and make sure they have all the information they need to get the very best out of our education,” Lamont said, adding that when he was a teacher at Warren Harding High School in Bridgeport, he wished he had more resources to connect with Spanish-speaking parents.
“The class was very busy, and a lot of people left. A lot of these moms and dads are in the landscaping business, and their kids left and went back to Central America for a few months and came back,” Lamont said. “They had me on the phone calls, trying to get the kids back into the classroom. … I wish I could have done that in Spanish. And that’s just what this bill is all about.”
Lamont was joined by Rep. Antonio Felipe, D-Bridgeport, who helped co-sponsor the bill, and advocacy groups ConnCAN and Make the Road, which have pushed for its passage. The groups gathered support from parents who testified at a public hearing last week, and they held press conferences inside the Capitol building earlier this session.
“Everyone likes to throw around the word ‘champion,’ right? [Lawmakers] are the folks that are scoring the ball, but [the advocacy groups] are the ones that really made the assist and put us in the position to do this,” Felipe said. “It’s no small feat that, in year one, I have the big guy [Lamont] standing behind me. … Usually these things take time, these things take years, there’s things to hammer out, but … the governor’s office understood and saw this as an opportunity to really latch on as early as we can to make sure we’re giving opportunity to these families — to these parents — to make sure they have access to be as big of a part in their child’s future, and in their learning experience, as they can be regardless of the language barrier.”
Beyond guaranteeing parents access to interpreters, the bill also outlines more than a dozen other rights, including that English language learners do not have to disclose their immigration status, the ability for students to enroll in bilingual programs and that parents have the opportunity to meet with school staff to discuss their students’ academic development.
Karen Paredez, a Bridgeport mother who moved to the area two years ago, didn’t receive opportunities to engage in her daughter’s education, she said. When she asked school officials how her daughter was doing, she was simply given the answer, “good,” with no additional details.
“Frequently when I went to parent-teacher conferences to receive grades, I would use my cell phone to understand the teachers and what they were saying,” Paredez said in Spanish. “I’m here today, not just to talk about myself, but I’m here to speak on behalf of Sarah, Julia, Carmen, Alesia and all the other mothers and families who cannot actively participate in our children’s education due to language barriers we face.”
Paredez then switched to English.
“Maybe in the future, I will be able to say all these words in English, because together, with my daughter, I am learning English,” Paredez said. “But right now, like many parents outside, I need your help.”
Sen. Herron Gaston, D-Bridgeport, told a story similar to Paredez’s, recounting how his father immigrated to the United States from St. Lucia.
“He came here not speaking any English and had to quickly try to learn. He didn’t get his GED until he was 45 years of age, and we were the ones that helped teach [him English],” Gaston said. “I know the barriers. My father probably could have been much further than where he was, in terms of education achievements, had he had the opportunity to be part of our educational system that taught in his language.”