CHAPEL HILL - A report that recommends suspending dual English-Chinese language classes met strong criticism and disappointment from parents and students involved in the program.
The Mandarin Chinese dual language program got a ringing show of support from than 100 parents and students at Thursdays meeting of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education.
They wore red to show support for the program, which puts elementary, middle and high school students in a language immersion setting in which half of their classes, like math and science, are taught in Mandarin Chinese.
No one would have guessed the programs future was in jeopardy a year ago, when the school board resolved to double the size of program at the elementary school level. But in conjunction with redistricting for the new elementary school opening in 2013, a study determined the costs associated with bringing Chinese educators were higher than anticipated, and that the program was not viable.
Not so, according to parents who spoke at the meeting. Most had children in the program at Glenwood Elementary. Many asserted the school department had not explored every channel for recruiting Chinese teachers.
David Saussy, whose kindergarten child is learning Chinese at Glenwood, was upset that the program set to run through high school could effectively end this school year.
We found a bunch of avenues that do not seem to be approached yet for teacher recruitment, he said. Saussy said that he and other parents recognize the difficulties associated with administering public education in Chinese, but that both dual language programs are important to our schools 21st century education goals.
The committees report is only the first step in a formalized decision-making process, and the next step will incorporate community input and reaction. An April 10 meeting of the School Improvement Team will provide a forum for parents to strategize, and a community forum will be held at 5 p.m. April 17 at Glenwood Elementary to collect input from parents on the Chinese dual language program.
Theres a lot of passion about this and I understand that, said Todd LoFrese, an assistant superintendent who helped create the report. We want to hear peoples response to this and potential solutions.
LoFrese said he could not comment on how a decision could affect current Chinese teachers, several of whom are foreign citizens in the country on a work visa. If the program is phased out, decisions will be made in a case-by-case fashion, he said.
The district committees report recommended beefing up Spanish dual language while phasing out the program in Chinese language. For some elementary students in the program at Glenwood, it would mean starting at a new school in the fall, since the program takes students who would otherwise not be assigned there.
The reports recommendations are far from final, but the decision-making process must push forward as board members face a complicated shuffling of staff and students to fill the new elementary school.
Its going to be a major redistricting, board member Jamezetta Bedford said.
Elementary dual language programs have proven far superior to other ways ot teaching foreign languages, she said.
Entry into the program is open to any student through a lottery system, and those who wish to join in later grades can do so by demonstrating proficiency in Chinese or English, as the case may be. There are many Chinese-American students in the program, which will be cut if the reports recommendation is adopted.
Maddie Minton, a fourth grader in Glenwoods dual language program, got up to speak to the Board of Education.
I am here to pretty much share my fellow students thoughts, she said. We dont understand why youre shutting down this program, but we are upset.
A transfer from Atlanta who tested into the program in third grade, Maddie said he parents, who are not native Chinese speakers, moved to Chapel Hill a year earlier than they had planned in order to get her into the dual language program. Only one other North Carolina school district has a similar program that teaches Mandarin Chinese.
I am pretty much districted in Ephesus, but I am placed in Glenwood for the Chinese program, Maddie said. Later, she was able to tell about herself in Mandirin.
Her mother, Colleen Minton, said the family loved the program had been hoping to get their younger son into it. She and other parents have created email lists, scheduled meetings and rapidly came together since the recommendations became known two weeks ago.
They have pledged to help find solutions to some of the obstacles outlined in the report.