Original URL:  http://news.statesmanjournal.com/article.cfm?i=70876

More than 120 hear about their rights during a workshop.
Statesman Journal
November 16, 2003

WOODBURN — For many Latinos in the Mid-Willamette Valley, pushing schools to improve their children’s education does not come easily.

Some are not fluent in English. Some are not citizens. Most come from cultures where challenging a teacher just isn’t done.

But Latino parents must learn new ways of advocating for their children, and the new No Child Left Behind law can help them, said Raul González, legislative director of the National Council of La Raza.

González was the featured speaker Saturday at an all-day workshop in Woodburn designed as assertiveness training for Latino parents.

It used to be that many schools “dumbed down” their offerings to Latino immigrants, González said. “Now everyone has to meet the same standards. Otherwise (school districts) get in trouble with the law.”

Under the law, if a school gets ranked as failing its students, parents have the right to seek a transfer to other schools or get special tutoring, González said. And parents in all schools get new rights to track their children’s progress in learning English.

The law requires schools to inform parents within 30 days how their child performed on literacy tests, González said. Then parents can help decide the appropriate level of bilingual or other instruction that will enable their child to master English.

“For the whole thing to work, parents have to get information and act on it,” González said.

The National Council of La Raza is a Washington, D.C.-based umbrella group for more than 130 Latino organizations nationwide. It is trying to provide more leadership in states such as Oregon and North Carolina with sizable new Latino communities, González said.

More than 120 parents attended Saturday’s workshop at the new Cipriano Ferrel Education Center. The event, conducted mostly in Spanish, was cosponsored by Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality and several other Latino organizations.

Cori Santiago, a mother of four students at Salem’s Highland Elementary School, came away energized by the event.

“I think it’s just going to bring an outlook to the community to bring the learning more focused to the children,” she said.

Many immigrant parents feel blessed that their children can simply go to school in this country, said Teresa Villafan, mother of two children in Salem-Keizer schools and a third who already graduated.

“Doing these trainings is opening their eyes that they can walk into the school and see their children’s classrooms,” she said. “Now, they know their rights under the law, that they can fight for the programs that their kids are entitled to, regardless of status.”

Villafan is a leader of the Salem group Parents with Voices, or Padres con Voces. The group is affiliated with the Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality.

Eduardo Angulo, coalition chairman, said he hopes Saturday’s event can be a catalyst for turning Parents with Voices into a statewide force for Latino parents.

“What we accomplished today,” Angulo said, “is the first step in empowering parents in removing the fear."



Tara McLain can be reached at (503) 399-6705.
Copyright 2003 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon