Parents Educating Parents about Their Rights in NYC Schools

Ana Alulema, Flaviana Linares and Marilyn Mendoza at the weekly meeting of the Parents in Action Committee (Comité Padres en Acción) which educates parents about NYC schools. (Photo by Edwin Martinez via El Diario)

Flaviana Linares arrived in New York City from her native Puebla, Mexico, 20 years ago. She candidly confesses that just until five years ago she found it quite difficult to communicate with her three children’s teachers to learn about their performance in school. She also admits that, back then, she had no idea about how to stand up for her rights and her children’s within the Big Apple’s education system.

Things changed when she joined the Comité Padres en Acción (Parents in Action Committee) at community organization Make the Road New York (MRNY). The support group has spent the last 10 years training members of the communities of Queens and Brooklyn to become leaders in their children’s schools.

“We are parents educating parents – mostly mothers – who understand that, whether or not we are professionals, speak English or are undocumented, we have a responsibility to fight for a better education for our children. We must understand that nobody will come, just like that, to educate us – we need to get up-to-date with what’s going on in our schools,” said Linares, proudly adding that the parents group changed her life.

“I compare myself to the mother I was before I came here, and I was an insecure mother, lacked knowledge on how schools work and had no demands, but now I feel empowered,” added the maintenance worker. (…)

Marilyn Mendoza, who has been a coordinator for the Queens organization for over a year and a half, said that the committee was created as immigrant parents realized that schools were overcrowded, and that they did not have sufficient resources for children or enough interpreters, which prevented many parents from communicating with school teachers. Soon, the group’s scope of action started to grow.

“We educate parents to fight, and teach them about the school system. However, in the committee we also educate them about immigration issues, workers’ rights, salaries, health care, bullying management, sexual orientation and other issues that matter to our community,” said the organizer.

“[Parents in the group] are always working on day-to-day school issues. Still, there have been bigger achievements, such as when parents fought to remove the trailers from P.S. 19 in Corona, which were used as classrooms for years, in winter without heating and in the summer without air conditioning. Parents fought hard and got funding for that school, and an expansion was built that improved conditions for hundreds of children,” said Mendoza, leader of Padres en Acción. The group is present in more than 10 Queens schools.

(…) The city’s Department of Education (DOE) has recognized the work of the committee, and last year Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza met with its members, as well as with 2,000 other parents. According to the DOE, the goal of these face-to-face encounters – which include two monthly meetings in community centers across the Big Apple – is to listen to parents in person as they express their needs and suggestions, and translate them into action.

“The meetings with the chancellor to listen to people have directly led to a series of reforms that support Latino families and students who speak other languages. These include the creation of the position of chief academic officer and the change of name of the Division of Multilingual Learners, (…) whose aim is to ensure that all students have a command of English while they continue to honor their multilingualism, the language of their home and culture,” said a DOE spokesperson, adding that they are increasing the resources available to schools.

(…) In addition, the members of MRNY’s Padres en Acción have a goal for 2019: Getting the state to pay schools what they are owed.

This was confirmed by Mendoza, who explained that parents “are ready to continue putting pressure” to activate the court ruling that gave more than $1.9 million to New York City schools. The organization Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) won a lawsuit more than 15 years ago in which they argued that the school system was not making a fair distribution of funds to public schools in the city.

“It is clear that they treat us differently when it comes to giving us resources because we are Latino. This year we want the state to finally release the funds it owes us and has kept from us, which they have denied us as part of the discriminatory way in which they serve our schools compared to white or rich communities,” said the group leader. (…)

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