Chinese program becomes voluntary at Roosevelt, Harrison
The Janesville School District administration is expected to present options for converting the district's Chinese language program from mandatory to voluntary when the school board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13.
JANESVILLE Chinese will no longer be mandatory for children in grades 3-5 at Harrison and Roosevelt elementary schools.
The Janesville School Board made that decision at a special meeting Tuesday night. The board told the administration to come up with options for making the change by Oct. 13.
Some board members rebuked the administration for not making it clear from the outset that the program was to be mandatory.
"I think the word (mandatory) was deliberately not used," said board member Tim Cullen.
Board member Bill Sodemann agreed to the change but defended the administration: "I do not believe for one minute that it was intentional."
The board approved the program in July. Instruction began this month. A parent who didn't want her son taking Chinese complained to the board in recent weeks, and that's when some board members found out the program they approved was mandatory.
Parents Sandra and Dave Fisher complained they were not even told their son would be taking Chinese until they read about it in a newsletter the first day of school.
"There's a certain amount of relief that there can be an end to this, because we can start dealing with specifically what is best for our child," Sandra Fisher said after the meeting.
Fisher said she would reserve final judgment on the board's action until she saw what plans are put in place at her school.
"I take full responsibility here," Director of Instruction Donna Behn told the board. "It was always an assumption that this was going to be a part of our core curriculum. … I will apologize to you if I did not state that or clearly make that point."
"We were misled," Cullen responded. "There isn't an 'if' in the situation."
All board members agreed they support Chinese instruction.
Board president DuWayne Severson voted for the change but said he was upset that the administration, which he blamed for creating the problem, was given two weeks to fix it, while parents he had heard from are still "stuck" in a program they don't want for their children.
Severson said the administration had misled the board before, when the board approved the 4-year-old kindergarten program only to find out weeks later the plan would add the expense of an administrator to oversee it.
Roosevelt parents were told about the program before the school year began, but Harrison parents were not. Behn said she takes responsibility for that, too.
Board member Lori Stottler, who voted against the motion, said she was frustrated that Harrison Principal Marlene Novota was not at the meeting to clarify matters, and why Novota was not present for a previous meeting on the subject.
The students should be represented by their principal, Stottler said.
Sodemann apologized for not asking better questions the night he voted for the program.
Sodemann commended the administration for setting up the program but said it should be voluntary.
Diedre Richard, who voted against the motion and who has a son in the program, said she understood that miscommunications happen.
Children in grades 3, 4 and 5 have been getting 30-minute lessons in Chinese language and culture every other day, for five days every two weeks.
Superintendent Karen Schulte said she is ultimately responsible for the situation and takes responsibility for it. Schulte said she believes the program should be mandatory, but she said the district must address concerns of parents 'who got caught in the middle."
The vote was 5-2. Greg Ardrey abstained because he came late to the meeting and didn't hear the entire discussion. Peggy Sheridan was absent.
Ironically, the district just received word that the program was chosen as one of three in the state and 200 in the nation that are exemplary in the teaching of Chinese to elementary students.
If the program had remained mandatory, as "best practices" dictate, the district would have won a $10,000 award from the Asia Society, Behn said.