Layoffs of bilingual DPS aides draw parent protests

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Parents and community leaders say they will file a federal civil rights complaint against the state and Detroit Public Schools over the layoff of several bilingual clerical workers at schools in southwest Detroit.

Supporters plan to gather Wednesday at Clippert Academy, one of the affected schools, to protest the dismissals, which occurred last month. They argue that more than 70 percent of the schools’ students don’t speak English, and that the lack of bilingual staff makes it harder for children and their parents to communicate at school.

Adam Thibodeau, community organizer for the Southwest Detroit Congress of Communities, said since the removal of the bilingual clerks, an incident already occurred during which parents were unable to communicate with the staff.

“A few weeks ago, one of the schools was put on lockdown and some of the parents rushed to the school but were unable to communicate with staff to find out if their children were safe,” Thibodeau said Monday. “This decision puts everyone in danger.”

Michelle Zdrodowski, a DPS spokeswoman, said three of the district’s nine southwest Detroit schools had no bilingual clerical staffer. Of the other six, four schools kept their bilingual clerk or received a new bilingual employee by transfer, leaving two schools without one, she said.

The employees are represented by the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees.

“The district continues to work with the DAEOE and the two outstanding schools to create a viable solution to this matter,” Zdrodowski said.

“The district has advised its parents and partners with limited English proficiency to request the services of certified translators to assist with their language needs – which is in compliance with U.S. Office of Civil Rights policies and procedures.”

Lucy Ruiz, who only speaks Spanish, moved to southwest Detroit with her husband because of the neighborhood schools’ focus on Spanish-speaking students. She’s now considering leaving.

“At this point, I don’t know if it’s worth our while to stay here if we are in a district where there is a language barrier,” Ruiz said through an interpreter. “As a parent, it’s important to be able to communicate with someone that can give me the correct information and where I know me and my family are understood.”