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Some Blaine County residents ask school district to bring back Latino liaisons

Blaine County School District

A group of Blaine County residents is urging the school district to bring back positions that would help Latino parents navigate the school system.

Jane Lopez is a community organizer at the Hunger Coalition and previously worked in the Blaine County School District for 19 years.

For a few years, she was a Latino Family Liaison. She worked to make Spanish-speaking parents feel connected to the community and helped explain things like college applications.

“Educating the parents about the education system in the United States and kind of getting them through the process,” Lopez said.

Lopez filled that role until March of 2021 when the district got rid of the full-time liaison position; it maintained one person who worked part-time.

Now, she and other community members are asking the district to reinstate a full-time Latino Liaison at Wood River High School and to add one full-time position at the middle school. The school district has a dual-immersion elementary school where many staff are bilingual.

Lopez and a local St. Luke’s doctor, Dr. John Hatzenbuehler, wrote an op-ed in the Idaho Mountain Express, asking community members to submit public comments on the issue before a board meeting Tuesday.

The school district estimates there were about 160 new students last fall. Lopez said with an influx of new immigrants to the community, there’s a renewed need to support Latino families.

About half of students at Wood River High identify as Hispanic or Latino, but only 10% of staff do, and Lopez said the limited number of bilingual teachers and staff are already busy.

“It’s not fair to be pulling other staff members to interpret or to have to translate when they already have all these other things to do,” she said.

Jim Foudy, the superintendent, said the Blaine County School District is looking at this issue closely, as budget discussions kick off during Tuesday evening’s board meeting. About 50 people had submitted comments on the topic by Monday morning.

Foudy said it’s possible a local nonprofit could hire for these liaison positions so that the services they provide could go beyond the scope of the school, like employment and housing.

He mentioned the school district recently partnered with the YMCA on bringing a parental engagement program to the community called PIQE, or Parent Institute for Quality Education. More than 100 people have participated in the program, which focuses on engaging with families from “diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.”

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the school board will hear a proposal for a “newcomer center” to centralize services and classes for English language learners and to help them pass proficiency exams more quickly.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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