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Parents, community members demand return of bilingual staff in some Detroit schools

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Some parents and community members in southwest Detroit plan to file a federal civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.

That’s after the Detroit Public Schools removed bilingual office staff from several schools with predominantly Spanish-speaking parents last month.

“It’s a safety issue. It’s a civil rights issue,” said Maria Salinas, head of the group Congress of Communities. “This is the beginning of many people who will come out and fight. We shouldn’t have to fight.”

Angela Reyes said that in schools where most parents don’t speak fluent English, there are serious safety concerns.

“We’ve had issues with schools that have been closed down just in the past couple of months, when you’ve had lock downs because there was a shooting, emergencies for the kids … and there’s nobody in the front office who can talk to the parents,” Reyes said.

Salinas and Reyes accused the district of “pointing fingers” at employee unions and other factors for the transfers. But they believe DPS emergency manager Darnell Earley and his boss, Gov. Rick Snyder, have the power to override those concerns and return the “small number” of bilingual staff to schools.

But the district says it complies with federal guidelines by providing certified interpreters upon request.

DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski says that bilingual office staffers had initially been pulled from six schools, but four have either been returned or replaced.

The district is working with employee unions and “the two outstanding schools to create a viable solution to this matter,” Zdrodowski said.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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