by Meredith Kolodner
Almost a year after the state found that thousands of city students were not
getting the language help mandated by law, the city still does not have a plan
in place to fix the problem.
And this year’s budget cuts have made the situation even worse, teachers and
parents say, as English as a Second Language instructors have been cut and
services reduced even further.
At Public School 152 in Washington Heights, at least 48 children are getting
half as many hours – or less – than they should, staff members said.
Kindergartener Joan Guzman, 5, is one of them.
“From the beginning I was worried about it, but I didn’t know what was
happening,” his mom, Ana Bermudez, said in Spanish. “I told the teachers, ‘He
Last year there were three ESL teachers in the school, but this year there are
only two, even though the number of English language learners has stayed the
same, staff said.
It wasn’t until November that Bermudez, 37, found out that Joan, who came to the
United States from the Dominican Republic six months ago, was not getting any
English language services he was entitled to by law.
He is now getting four periods a week of extra help at PS 152, where about 39%
of children were learning English, but state law mandates that he receive eight
“I’m worried my son will not be able to complete kindergarten,” Bermudez said.
Principal Julia Pietri wouldn’t directly say whether her students were receiving
all the services mandated by law. “Services are provided to the ESL students,”
said Pietri. “If any parents have questions they can come and speak to me
At PS 212 in Jackson Heights and PS 17 in Long Island City, Queens, ESL teachers
were let go and, as a result, not all of the students entitled to the extra
language help are getting it, staff members said.
About a quarter of the schools in the district of northwest Queens are not
serving all of their English language learners properly, according to union
district rep Barbara Mylite.
In some cases, teachers with ESL licenses were hired as classroom teachers, but
they have 25 students or more – some proficient in English and others who are
not. By law, these students should be getting separate time with a dedicated ESL
“I have seven students who are supposed to be receiving ELL English language
learners services, but they have gotten nothing since September,” said one
elementary school teacher. “This has never happened in the past.”
At New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, last year, there was only
one teacher to serve 231 students in bilingual programs and nine teachers trying
to service 670 ESL students, according to data obtained by Advocates for
Children and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund under the
Freedom of Information Law.
Education Department officials, though, said that only 1% of students learning
English aren’t getting services.
“Since last September, we’ve made progress in providing a quality education to
our English language learners,” said spokesman Matthew Mittenthal. “This is a
high priority for the city, and we’ll continue working with the state to develop
a plan that ensures no English language learner is left behind.”
Advocates say that the kids’ parents, who also may not speak English fluently,
often don’t know their children aren’t getting the help they need.
“It becomes very difficult for that child to catch up,” said one teacher. “They
have the dual problem of learning English while trying to develop academically,
and then they are actually held back.”