It was a 25-degree night in January, and nearly 200 parents were camped out in a parking lot. Many had been there for three days and nights.

These shivering, sleep-deprived parents weren’t trying to snag tickets to the Super Bowl or to a Destiny’s Child concert. They were after something far more important: an enrollment spot for their child at Oyster Elementary School, the District’s only bilingual English-Spanish primary school.

Washington is one of the most cosmopolitan capitals in the world, yet it has only one public bilingual elementary school. Those parents who were lucky enough to be in the front of the line snagged one of the first-come, first-served out-of-boundary spots. The not-so-lucky were denied the opportunity for their children to learn to read, write, speak and do math fluently in two languages.

The District government’s Office of Bi-Lingual Education calculated in 2001 that the school system has more than 4,200 elementary-school-age Spanish-speaking children. Obviously, Oyster can accommodate only a few of those children who need and desire bilingual education. Yet despite the obvious need, no funds were allocated in this year’s District education budget for additional bilingual elementary schooling.

The Oyster School parents know how valuable an education their children are receiving. Because of this, they formed a public-private partnership that has built a state-of-the-art building to house Oyster.

Bilingual education should not be ignored in the school budget, especially when Oyster has been such a resounding success. Those parents who camped out in the January cold weren’t crazy. They know that Spanish is an important language in the United States of today and in the global economy that their children will inherit.

The need for bilingual education in the District is going to continue to grow. It’s time that the powers that be in the District rise to the occasion and provide it.

— Dwight Singleton

represents Ward 3 and Ward 4 on the D.C. Board of Education.

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