A decade ago, about 29 percent of Gwinnett students spoke a language other than English at home. Today, it’s 37 percent, district officials say.
“Our demand has increased significantly, especially with our Spanish interpreters,” Alicia McCartney, director of Gwinnett’s International Newcomer Center, wrote in an email last month to Gwinnett officials.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to better serve individuals and families who don’t speak English or do so poorly. Gwinnett officials say they are trying to beef up the services after the federal government issued new guidance in 2011 for such services for parents who speak little or no English.
Steve Ramey, a Gwinnett-based tea party activist who is critical of state efforts to curb illegal immigration, does not believe the school district should use any money from its budget for interpreters. He suggested Gwinnett charge parents a fee to offset interpretation costs.
“The taxpayers should not be on the hook for any of this stuff,” said Ramey, co-chairman of the United Tea Party of Georgia, which claims about 3,000 members.
There is no precise count of illegal immigrants in the state or how many of their children attend public schools. State education department rules prohibit school officials from inquiring about the immigration status of students. Those rules are in line with a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that school districts must educate all children regardless of their immigration status.
Other school districts in the Atlanta region face similar challenges. DeKalb County, for example, sought to improve its registration process for international students this school year after problems the year before. About one-fifth of DeKalb students are classified as international, and the district has 12 interpreters at its International Welcome Center.
About 2,100 Atlanta Public Schools students were served by the English to Speakers of Other Languages program at the end of the last school year, up from 1,500 in 2010, district officials said. APS said it pays for translation services as needed and when vendors are available.