Chapel Hill-Carrboro parents oppose changes to language programs

CorrespondentApril 17, 2012 

CHSPANISH1-NE-041912-HLL

Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member Tom Forcella, left, speaks briefly with school board chair Mia Burroughs, right, as a growing sea of red shirted parents, teachers and children from Glenwood Elementary School as well as parents and students from Frank Porter Graham elementary school packed the Chapel Hill Town Hall Thursday evening, April 19, 2012.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com

— Unhappy parents and students packed the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board meeting on Thursday to voice objections to recommendations to discontinue one dual-language program and convert a neighborhood school to house another.

A staff proposal to convert Frank Porter Graham Elementary from a neighborhood school to a magnet school for Spanish dual language classes came under fire from that school’s community of parents, which included members of the Karen immigrant group from Myanmar.

Many others came to defend the district’s Mandarin Chinese dual-language program at Glenwood Elementary, which the same report recommends dismantling. That group wore red to show their solidarity.

Parents, students and school district employees raised objections. Some were tearful. Of at least two dozen citizen speakers, none supported the recommendations.

“We urge the Board of Education to consider Karen and Latino populations which consider Frank Porter Graham to be their neighborhood school,” said Andrew Davidson, a member of Frank Porter Graham’s school improvement team.

Jiarong Fu, vice president of the Chinese American Friendship Association of North Carolina, read a statement questioning the staff’s rationale in closing the Mandarin program. A lack of interest among Asian Americans cited in their report was a mischaracterization, he said.

“We feel like the Asian American community has been unfairly portrayed by your staff, and we ask for an apology,” he said, to the applause of a standing-room crowd.

So many people turned out that the board had to abbreviate the individual time allotted to citizens wishing to comment.

“Are you aware that our Asian population in this community has soared to almost 11 percent,” asked Chris Russell, who has a 2nd-grader in Glenwood’s Mandarin program.

The report was issued in March and met with immediate blowback from parents involved in the Mandarin program.

There were fewer in attendance to protest converting Frank Porter Graham into a magnet school, but their objections was no less emotional.

Zaw Zaw, a father in the school district’s local Karen community, spoke of the hardships of leaving their embattled homeland and immigrating to America.

Many Karen families live directly next to Frank Porter Graham Elementary School, and their children would have to start at a new school if the change is adopted.

“My family is scared,” Zaw said.

Kyla Speizer, a 5th-grader in the Mandarin program, is not a native Chinese speaker, but she read her statement in a fluent Mandarin.

“When I grow up I want to go to China and design houses for Chinese people that have no home,” her English translation read. “Dual language will help me to accomplish this.”

She wrote the statement herself, she said, with some help from her friends.

Hartwell: 504-251-6670

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