Advocates Unveil a Comprehensive Plan to Address Educational Equity for Multilingual Learners/English Language Learners and Multilingual Families During the Pandemic

New York State - New York State school districts have been closed since March 18, 2020, and according to Governor Cuomo’s recent announcement will stay closed for the rest of the school year. New York Advocates for Fair and Inclusive Resources for Multilingual Learners (NY-AFFIRMs) has launched a “NYS Pandemic Relief & Educational Equity for MLLs/ELLs Platform” to outline critical steps to address the impact of prolonged school closures equitably.

The New York State Board of Regents has taken significant action to address the profoundly challenging realities of these times in suspending Regents exam graduation requirements. NY-AFFIRMs thanks the Regents for this critical step.

The platform calls on New York State to support the growing needs of thousands of Multilingual Learners/English Language Learners (MLLs/ELLs) based on information gleaned from a survey of over 80 community leaders, educators and families across New York State, which was conducted by NY-AFFIRMs over the past six weeks. It found that many MLLs/ELLs still lack meaningful access to remote learning, information on what is happening in school, and related resources.

Developed by more than 30 multi-ethnic Community Based-Organizations (CBOs), educators and immigrant rights advocates, the comprehensive platform addresses the needs of MLLS/ELLS, their families, and their educators, as they adjust to remote learning and grapple with the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

New York State MLLs/ELLs already lagged far behind their peers despite their incredible potential. Statewide, only 39% of MLLs/ELLs graduated within four years compared to 86% of non-MLLs/ELLs before the COVID 19 crisis. Appallingly, they already had the highest dropout rate of any subgroup at 27%. Moreover, data show that immigrant families are often poorer, possess lower levels of education, and work in lower-wage industries than their counterparts. With immigrant New Yorkers making up more than half of the front line workers and living in the areas hardest hit by the pandemic, the pressure on immigrant families is enormous, making it particularly important that the seismic shift in public education underway across the state pay special attention to supporting these youth and families.

“The COVID 19 pandemic has exacerbated the inequities in our educational systems and the living conditions of multilingual families around the state, particularly for low-income families,” said Andrea Ortiz, Manager of Education Policy, New York Immigration Coalition. “The State needs to support school districts in addressing the unique challenges faced by multilingual families to meaningfully engage with remote learning and their school communities so that thousands of young people will not be left behind for years to come. Every student deserves equal access to high-quality education and an opportunity to thrive. While the shift to remote learning has been an unprecedented challenge for our state’s school districts, we must work together to take transformational steps that will ensure the injustices of the past are not translated into the future of our children.”

“We need to ensure that in these difficult times, Multilingual Learners are connected to their teachers, schools and districts in meaningful ways that allow them to interact and access the supports they need to continue growing intellectually and developing linguistically in English and in their home languages,” said Dr. Tamara Alsace, Past President of the NYS Association for Bilingual Education and Secretary of the Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY. "The strengths and needs of our students must be considered up-front as we develop plans to deliver instruction and reach out to families.”

“Multilingual Learners are an integral part of our school communities, and helping them achieve their full potential must not be sidelined during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” said Priscilla Zarate, Suffolk County Hispanic Advisory Board Chairwoman. “Many multilingual learner families lack access to necessary resources that can help their children succeed during distance learning. Educators are struggling to connect with multilingual families to adjust their distance learning curricula to support their students. Important questions remain unresolved regarding grade promotion and graduation policies for our most vulnerable students. We look forward to working with the NYS Department of Education, the Board of Regents, and the members and partners of NY-AFFIRM to address the needs of all multilingual students so they may have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.”

NY-AFFIRMs is a statewide coalition of diverse educators and community-based organizations focused on the needs of Multilingual Learners/English Language Learners (MLLs/ELLs) and their families. NY-AFFIRMs urges New York State legislators and educational leaders to prioritize significant investments to leverage MLLs'/ELLs' full potential.