Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Trustees Say Dual Immersion Decision Not Racially Motivated
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The Blaine County School District is finding different way to celebrate the Class of 2020.
 
Friday, May 22, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Blaine County School Board Trustees said this week that they would have liked to phase out the dual immersion program at Ernest Hemingway STEAM School gradually so that currently enrolled students could complete it at Hemingway.

But the ongoing and recently exacerbated shortage of qualified dual immersion teachers forced them to consolidate the dual immersion program at Ernest Hemingway STEAM School with the dual immersion magnet school Alturas Elementary for the 2020-21 school year.

There was capacity for every Hemingway dual immersion student at Alturas, they said. Transportation will be provided from Hemingway to Alturas. And extra support will be provided for rising first and second graders who elect to remain at Hemingway if they need extra assistance to adjust to the English-only program.

“It is the board’s job to evaluate the situation and make the best decision we can under the circumstances, which I believe we did,” said Trustee Lara Stone.

The dual immersion program at Alturas is one of the premier dual immersion programs in the state, trustees said.

The merger was recommended by district administration and the Hemingway school administration.

When the Blaine County School District’s dual immersion program started in 2001, portions of the program were offered at Bellevue, Hailey, Hemingway and Woodside elementary schools. When the Board of Trustees decided to consolidate the program in 2014, many argued that the Hemingway program should be part of that consolidation.

While the Alturas program utilizes a team approach in which each class is taught by one native English speaker and one native Spanish speaker, the Hemingway program utilized a single teacher to deliver both English and Spanish content. That meant they had to teach concepts, such as photosynthesis in their non-native language.

Experience has shown that a teacher who is bilingual or biliterate is not necessarily capable of teaching academic subject matter in both languages, trustees pointed out. And recruiting qualified teachers for dual immersion programs has become difficult nationwide.

Two teaching positions were unfulfilled at the time the board made its decision and two of the remaining teachers were unwilling to accept reassignment to a different grade.

“No trustee took any pleasure in making this decision and all trustees recognize that many students, particularly rising first and second graders, could be adversely affected without additional support,” trustees said in a prepared statement.

Ernest Hemingway School has expanded in recent years from an elementary school to an elementary and middle school. It also offers a STEAM program. Not all programs can be offered at every elementary school, trustees said.

Since there is no dual immersion program at the Carey School, any student in that zone who wishes to take part in dual immersion learning is required to provide their own transportation to Alturas, which is nearly twice the distance between Hemingway and Alturas schools. And students residing south of the Hemingway School boundary lines who wish to attend Hemingway are expected to provide their own transportation to and from Ketchum.

In contrast, trustees say they are providing transportation to Alturas for those currently enrolled in Hemingway dual immersion program to make sure that a lack of transportation does not prevent students from continuing in dual immersion.

Trustees concluded that their decision was not racially motivated: “Such claims are unfounded and disregard the actual problem: A severe shortage of qualified bilingual and bilateral teachers to staff two programs.”

 

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