Detroit schools EM to lay off bilingual secretaries

- A demonstration by some Detroit federation of teachers capped off a long and troublesome week for Detroit Public Schools.

Parents are reeling from news that 16 schools could be sold off to charter school operators, teachers are staging sick-outs and now the language barrier between some parents and school staffers is getting bigger.

Parents, students and teachers protest the looming layoffs of bilingual secretaries at six schools in southwest Detroit - where many parents speak little English or none at all.

"My English is not 100 percent and I still need my secretary bilingual," said one parent. "She has helped me a lot."

"We are the front staff we are who everyone sees when they first walk into that building," said Noe Ortiz, a bilingual secretary. "So we are who they look for when they need to pick up their children."

Ortiz says she's being replaced by someone who cannot speak Spanish and Alise Anaya says it's already raising concerns.

"There's been a couple of incidents this week in southwest Detroit where a couple of parents needed to get a hold of their kids," she said. " ... And if they are not able to communicate with the school and know their kids are ok, then there's a big problem."

DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Early is behind the cost cutting plan. Parents protested outside of his office Monday  and were kicked out. They're not the only ones drawing his ire.

"The strike movement is going to sweep this city we want quality public education now," said Steve Conn, former president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

Educators rumored to be acting under the leadership of Conn, the ousted teacher union president, staged three sickouts this month in protest of Gov. Rick Snyder's education reform plans, a teacher shortage, larger class sizes and cuts to their salaries and healthcare benefits.

"We want good schools for our kids, we need lower class sizes," Conn said. "We need a certified teacher in every class, we need bilingual staff."

A spokeswoman for DPS says non-English speaking parents can request certified translators from the district to help them communicate with school staff - adding that schools are trying to put something in place so they can communicate with parents until those translators arrive.

The layoffs go into effect next Friday.

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