June 4th, 2010 5:33 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Schools, CLEAN UP

Se Habla Español: Portland Public Schools Creates Temporary Interpretation Protocols

Language Hangup
Last week's story about Portland Public Schools' sometimes inability to communicate with non-English-speaking parents generated a lot of heated reader comments. It also filled my email inbox with missives that are, shall we say, more difficult to characterize. To wit, one reader wrote:
Mr./Mrs. Slovic:

Have you finally run out of reasons for outrage down at WW? Because that was the stupidest story I have ever read, with a premise so lacking in common sense and such faux outrage as to make me cringe.

OK. Portland Public Schools, on the other hand, took the results of Marta Guembes's phone investigation seriously. Her stealth operation -- which she conducted during her free time -- showed several schools (even those with large populations of students from immigrant and refugee families) were ill-equipped to handle phone calls from parents who didn't speak English.

After the story of Guembes's work appeared in WW and on KATU, PPS sent an email to all 85 of the district's schools. The email directs secretaries to follow new guidelines should a non-English speaker call their schools. Those guidelines tell PPS secretaries to redirect phone calls to certain PPS employees who can interpret conversations in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian and Somali. They provide a backup number should those interpreters not be available. Finally, they direct secretaries never to use children as interpreters.

Matt Shelby, a spokesman for PPS, says the district is still considering more formal avenues for offering phone interpretation but that the above guidelines would serve as a bridge until the district finds a more permanent solution.
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