U-46 is concerned changes could hurt bilingual program

Echoing concerns of parents, Elgin Area School Dist. U-46 board members want assurance that a plan to spread the high school bilingual program over three schools is the best solution for the students who need help mastering English.

Board members want to make sure that dividing the program – currently housed at Bartlett High School – evenly among Bartlett, Streamwood and Larkin high schools would not compromise its quality.

They also sought guarantees that bilingual students would not be moved again.

“What sort of assurance can we give them that we won’t bounce them around?” asked board member Ernest Marquez.

U-46 this fall will begin sending freshman and sophomores to new bilingual programs at Streamwood High School and Larkin High School in Elgin. The move will bring bilingual students in the northern part of the district closer to their neighborhood schools and at the same time ease crowding at Bartlett High School.

The decision has stirred some concerns among parents, though none showed up to express their opinions at Monday night’s board meeting.

U-46 administrators said the quality of the bilingual program would not be jeopardized by the plan. And barring any unexpected enrollment decrease, U-46 will continue to operate programs at three high schools, Area Superintendent Lalo Ponce said.

“I think it is the model we all want. We want the kids served in their attendance areas,” he added.

In the fall, a little more than 100 students will attend the programs at Larkin and Streamwood, taking more than 200 students away from Bartlett. Juniors would follow the next year and seniors the next. By the fall of 2002, about 160 students would fill each bilingual program.

Only 3 years old, Bartlett High School is 300 students over its 2,500-student capacity and relies on 12 mobile classrooms to help handle the growth.

For months officials have been looking for a way to give Bartlett some relief. Because 400 of Bartlett’s students – the majority of whom are bused from Elgin – are in the bilingual program, officials believe spreading out the bilingual program is the best solution. But while Bartlett may lose some of its mobile classrooms, Streamwood and Larkin may have to add two to three, Ponce said.

The new plan actually reverses a controversial 4-year-old decision to house the bilingual program at Bartlett.

Elgin High School, the neighborhood school for many bilingual students, was the former home of the program. However, when Bartlett opened, district officials decided to move it to ease crowding at Elgin High and avoid creating a high minority school.

Lack of diversity could have made U-46 vulnerable to civil rights lawsuits, officials said.

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