Loss of bilingual secretary concerns parents

Posted at 6:40 PM, Dec 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-09 18:40:45-05

Dozens of secretaries and office staff at Detroit Public Schools learned they will be laid off from their jobs just before Christmas break.

The concern in southwest Detroit is the cuts will leave some schools without translators. At Maybury Elementary School the secretary is bilingual and serves as the unofficial translator at the school.

"I just can't believe this is happening," said Mahindi Masai, a teacher at the school.

He says every class at the school is mostly made up of kids whose first language is Spanish.

"In my class 99%," said Mr. Masai. "I am not exaggerating."

"We need her," said Judith Perez, the mom of a student at the school.

She and two other moms, Raquel Murphy and Maria Flores, were out collecting signatures this week, hoping to change the mind of administrators. 

Parents and teachers say the biggest concern is what they learned about the new secretary coming to the school as positions are shifted.

"I heard she is not bilingual," said Mr. Masai. "Our current secretary is my translator and that is very important.  We have to communicate with the parents.  Maintaining communication with our parents is extremely important."

It is not just happening at Maybury Elementary. Parents are concerned about how the secretarial changes will impact the Academy of the Americas, Clippert Academy, Western International High, Roberto Clemente Academy, and Earhart Elementary-Middle School.

The Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation hosted a meeting with parents and school district leaders. They says they believes it is a violation of the students' civil rights to take away bilingual office staff.

The Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees says 29 of its members got notices, and 39 learned they will be transferred to another position during the restructuring.

A spokesperson for the district says when fully implemented, this is part of a restructuring that will result in a $10 million savings to the district annually.

Parents say while there may be savings, it is inefficient to not have a bilingual secretary.

The Executive Director of Communications at DPS, Michelle Zdrowski provided the following statement and asked that it be used in full:

Detroit Public Schools is committed to working with all of its parents and families to ensure their students get a high-quality education and their needs are met. While recent central office clerical position transitions set to occur on December 18 may cause the shifting of school-based clerical staff across the District, they will be done in accordance with the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement in place with the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees (DAEOE). We appreciate and acknowledge that some parents and partners in our Southwest community are concerned about the transitions of a small number of clerical employees who are bilingual in Spanish. The District has advised groups of parents and partners of its process for schools and parents with limited English proficiency to request the services of certified translators to assist with their language needs. This process applies not only to our Spanish-speaking community, but also to those parents with limited English proficiency who speak other languages, including Arabic, Bengali, Romanian and Hmong (the other languages that have significant populations within the District). Impacted schools are also working to put into place a process to have available staff to communicate with non-English speaking parents until the certified translator is able to communicate directly with those parents. Additionally, once the position transition process is complete, there may be opportunities for transfers to occur within the school-based clerical ranks to address specific community needs throughout the District. We are working with DAEOE Union Leadership to develop a plan related to these potential transfers once the process is finalized. It should also be noted that the District’s Translation Coordinator is certified to translate in Spanish and is available as needed for interpretation services.