Children who don't speak English well are entitled to special classes in English as a second language (ESL). When your child starts school, teachers will give her a test to see if she needs help improving her English. Parents who don't speak English are entitled to translations of all important documents and interpreters for meetings with teachers and school staff.
If your child receives ESL instruction, she will generally attend regular classes with English-speaking children for most of the day. She will get extra help for an hour or more a day from a specially trained ESL teacher. Almost all schools in the city offer ESL instruction.
If you prefer, your child may be able to attend bilingual classes. Bilingual classes offer students instruction in English part of the day and in their native language the rest of the day. This allows students to make progress in academic subjects like math and science in their native language while they are learning English. This is also called "transitional bilingual" because children gradually use more English and less of their native language. Not all schools offer bilingual instruction, but if at least 15 children in the same grade speak the same language the school is supposed to offer it.
Some schools also offer dual-language classes. These schools teach children to read, write and speak fluently in both English and another language. Generally, half the students are native speakers of English while half speak the other language (Spanish, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Russian or Korean). Dual-language programs allow children to maintain and perfect their native language while learning English, and allow English speakers to become fluent in a second language.
Almost every school in the city has at least a few children who are learning English, but there are several dozen schools designed especially for English language learners (ELLs), including older students who are new to the United States. Look for the "new immigrants" icon on the "Find a School" advanced-search function.
If you have trouble getting the classes you think your child needs, call the Advocates for Children hotline, (866) 427-6033, Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.