As evidence mounts that COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Latinos in Forsyth County, members of local Latino congregations, associations and nonprofits plan to speak with elected leaders Tuesday. Their topic: the pandemic’s impact on the education and mental health of their children.
The Forsyth County Latino Congress will host an online news conference at 7 p.m. Tuesday on Zoom, the organization said in a news release. The link for the conference is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84208619028.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening historical inequities in education and health, and disproportionately affects Latino students and their parents,” said Rev. Daniel Sostaita, the pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Sin Fronteras, which translates as Christian Church Without Borders.
One-quarter of the students enrolled in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools are Hispanic, the organization said. Hispanics make up 35% of the coronavirus cases in North Carolina, while accounting for nearly 10% of the state’s population, state health officials say.
As of May 17, the last time detailed numbers were released, Forsyth County health officials said that 54% of the coronavirus cases are within the local Latino community, despite Hispanics making up only 13% of the county’s population.
“While the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted everyone’s life, we are seeing an alarming number of children of color who would benefit from being able to speak with a bilingual counselor,” said the Rev. Sonia Baca-Zuniga, a pastor at Marvin United Methodist Church. “The problem is that, as far as we know, there is only one bilingual school psychologist for the almost 15,000 Latino students in our schools.”
Brent Campbell, a spokesman for the school district, acknowledged that only one bilingual school psychologist works in the local school system.
“That role is supported by a team of translators and interpreters,” Campbell said in an email. “We always, however, are looking for ways to continue building a more diversified workforce.”
The school system has 430 Hispanic employees in a variety of capacities, Campbell said.
Latino leaders want the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education to hire additional bilingual personnel to help their children, the organization said. As the school district canceled in-person classes and provided online education to its students, the pandemic severely affected Hispanic families.
“We know these last few months have been hard for all students,” Campbell said. “We want to do everything possible to make sure all students are engaged and that any barrier to a good education is removed. We look forward to continuing our work with this group, and others, that like us, want nothing but the best for our students.”
In recent weeks, local school officials and the members of Forsyth County Latino Congress have met and discussed these issues, Campbell said. The school system’s five-year strategic plan includes increasing the number of interpreters and bilingual employees, “but also specifically address ways to remove those language barriers that can exist with many of our students and their families,” Campbell said.
Campbell also said that schools are seeking feedback and input from the group as the district finalizes its strategic plan and annual budget.
The Hispanic community is facing other challenges.
“Many in our community have lost their jobs, and many are not eligible for unemployment assistance or the stimulus payment,” said the Rev. Oscar Zuniga-Baca, an assistant pastor at New Hope United Methodist Church. “As a result, their children are experiencing food insecurity.”
Spanish-speaking parents are struggling to help their children learn during the pandemic because they have limited familiarity with technology and little understanding of assignments in English, the organization said.