Parents, board question if Chinese program should be mandatory
If you go
The Janesville School Board meets at 5:30 p.m. today at the Janesville Academy for International Studies, 31 W. Milwaukee St. The Chinese program is the second item on the agenda. The first item is about revised policies governing how the board conducts its business.
JANESVILLE Failures to communicate seem to be at the root of a controversy over a new, mandatory Chinese-language program at two Janesville elementary schools.
The Janesville School Board meets tonight to discuss and possibly order changes in the program.
The board recently heard from the parent of a Harrison Elementary School child who complained she was not informed of the new, mandatory program until after school started.
All children in grades 3, 4 and 5 at Harrison and Roosevelt schools are required to take Chinese. It's not optional.
The parent said the only option offered her was to transfer to another school.
School board member Lori Stottler, who served on a task force that developed the idea of an elementary-school Chinese program, said she had not expected it to be mandatory.
"I felt like I was bamboozled," Stottler said.
"I look at it as an enrichment opportunity for students, not something we would necessarily, without parents' full fledged enthusiasm, ask somebody to do," Stottler said.
Director of Instruction Donna Behn said that in discussions leading up to the formation of the program, it was always assumed it would be mandatory.
"That was probably an error on our part, or an assumption on our part, that everybody just understood that," Behn said.
Behn said the research into best educational practices endorses this approach.
"When you look at every other elementary world-language program in the state, it is not something that is opted out by parents," Behn said.
The board voted 8-0 for the program July 14. Stottler was not present.
"This is the land of the free. To compel someone to take Chinese, I have a real problem with," said school board member Bill Sodemann. "When we voted on it, I had the understanding that it was optional," and other board members thought the same.
Board President DuWayne Severson agrees. He said he favors making the program optional.
Harrison parent Sandra Fisher said she didn't know of the program until it was mentioned in a newsletter that came home in her son's backpack on the first day of school.
No one mentioned it the night before at back-to-school conferences, Fisher said.
If she had known about the program before school started, she could have arranged to send her son to a different school, Fisher said.
Behn said she informed the Harrison and Roosevelt principals right after the board approved the program in July, and at a later meeting the principals said they would get the word out to parents.
"I take full responsibility for not following up with the principals," Behn said.
Behn said she would like the board to give educators a chance to run the program the way they believe it should be run this year and to then assess how well it's working.
Behn said that if the board makes the program optional, she will need to know whether there's a deadline for opting out.
If parents could opt out at any time, the program would be very difficult to manage, she said.
Concerns about Chinese
Parent Sandra Fisher has raised other concerns over the new Chinese program at Harrison and Roosevelt elementary schools, including:
-- Religion being taught, including the ideas of yin and yang in connection to a learning unit on foods, and the teaching of a "mid-autumn festival," which Fisher said is connected to moon worship.
Fisher said she's been in schools where the mere mention of Jesus Christ is hushed, so if the separation of church and state is to be enforced that way, it should be the same for all religions.
Director of Instruction Donna Behn said Chinese culture is an integral part of the program, that the religious context of ideas is taught in other subjects, and there would never be any attempt at religious indoctrination.
-- Teacher Yiyi Gallant's lack of a teaching license.
Behn said Gallant has been working under a state program that allows her to teach while working toward her license. This year, she's in the final year of that program and is student-teaching under the supervision of Behn and a university professor.
-- Fisher wondered why Chinese is being touted as a skill that will be needed in the economy of the future, when there's no indication that it will be needed locally. Fisher suggested parents be given options other than just Chinese, including Spanish.