With almost one voice, about three dozen speakers last night urged the Seattle School Board to continue busing students to elementary schools offering bilingual education.
The hearing, attended by about 80 people, was for public comment on proposed changes to the district’s student-assignment plan that would allow more students to enroll in elementary schools closer to their homes. Moving bilingual-education centers closer to the children they serve, most of whom live in Central or South Seattle, would be part of the plan.
But in heartfelt testimony, parents, teachers and students from Lawton, B.F. Day, Greenwood and Laurelhurst elementary schools last night praised the cultural diversity bilingual students now bring to their mostly North End schools. Most of the primarily Asian and Latino students who are taught some subjects in their native languages in bilingual-education programs are bused in.
“If it were not for such programs, I would not be able to make it through elementary school, middle school, high school and college,” said Chau Tran, a University of Washington senior. Years ago, when she entered Greenwood Elementary, she didn’t even know what “hello” meant, Tran said.
Nearly half of the students and parents who spoke in support of the bilingual programs were Asian- or Spanish-speaking students or parents involved with the schools.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Elaine Evans, president of the Greenwood PTA, referring to the proposed move of bilingual programs.
Superintendent John Stanford said he would make his decisions within the next two weeks so booklets on next year’s school programs can meet their printing deadlines.
The board plans to vote on proposed changes to the current “controlled choice” student-assignment plan next Wednesday, or at the latest, Dec. 11.
A yes vote would relax racial-balance guidelines so more children could attend schools closer to home and fewer would be bused north-south across town. It’s a move school officials say will increase minority enrollment in South End schools. They plan to compensate for the “increased racial isolation” through a “weighted student formula” that’s designed to pump more money into schools with lots of bilingual and low-income students.
Stanford has the final say, independent of the board’s decision on busing.
Last night, Stanford said he was moved by the speakers’ pleas on behalf of their bilingual classes. “They’re here in support of their programs,” he said, “that’s what’s so wonderful.” Nevertheless, he said he would weigh opinions expressed at earlier public meetings “that minority parents want schools closer to home.”
Only one speaker, Edith Giles, representing the Seattle chapter of the National Black Child Development Institute, directly questioned the resegregation that could result from the plan. “You know you’re going to resegregate, but there’s no evidence that you know how to educate,” said Giles, referring to years of busing that hasn’t closed the gap in academic achievement between whites and African Americans and Latino-Hispanics.
Of the nearly 50 speakers last night, about a dozen raised other program-location issues that the superintendent plans to decide on soon.
For example, a number of parents from Lowell Elementary School on Capitol Hill asked that the district’s Accelerated Progress Program (APP) for gifted students not be moved to their building. The proposed move would eliminate their school, scattering most of the 209 students now enrolled.
Parents from APP asked that their program of 375 students be moved from Madrona Elementary School, where it’s squeezed in with 255 other elementary students, to Lowell or somewhere else.
“I’m also a taxpayer,” said Kristy Kunkle, an APP parent. “Clearly, this school (Lowell) is not operating efficiently” because of its low enrollment.