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Oswego District 308 School Board Votes to Reinstate Dual Language Program

May 12, 2015 09:45PM ● By Steven Jack

District 308 School Board member Jared Ploger discusses the Dual Language program at Monday night's school board meeting. (Photo courtesy of Maureen Sanchez)

Acting on a commitment made during the April election campaign and what they say are educational best practices, members of the Oswego District 308 School Board voted Monday night to reinstate the district’s much-discussed Dual Language program for the 2015-16 school year. 

In a series of votes, board members Matt Bauman, Lauri Doyle, Brad Banks and Jared Ploger voted to bring back the program while Greg O’Neil, Danielle Paul and Mike McDowell each voted no. The votes came after an hour of impassioned public comment and another two hours of sometimes contentious board debate. 

Detractors of the program were more vocal than at past meetings with several parents arguing among other issues that Dual Language is exclusionary and only serves a small portion of the district’s 18,000 students.

“Dual Language serves less than 2 percent of the population. Clearly, not giving every student equal educational opportunities," said Catherine Lightfoot. "... It’s time for you to do the right thing. Provide equal educational opportunities to every student. Stop focusing on a select few."

Doyle sought to address the concern that the program is only for select students by removing portions of the lottery system used to choose students that gives preferred entry status to siblings of Dual Language students and children of district staff members. 

Board members also debated at length the effectiveness of the program with Ploger repeatedly questioning administrators on whether the Dual Language immersion method is considered best practice for teaching English to native Spanish speakers.

“I think it’s an outstanding program,” Superintendent Matthew Wendt said. "We’ve never said it wasn’t. … It’s an effective practice. It’s a very effective program that’s not been implemented properly in the district.”

Board member Greg O’Neil, who in February cast a vote to dismantle the program, argued in favor of a World Language program that would be inclusive to all students. He also said the district’s English Language Leaner program is not meant for native English speakers such as those included in the Dual Language Spanish to English and English to Spanish immersion program.

“The ELL program is to teach Spanish-speaking kids to speak English not to teach white kids how to speak Spanish,” he said. “That’s the whole point of the ELL program.”

Echoing comments made at last week’s meeting, Board President Bauman again called for a task force made up of parents, administrators and teachers to fix the problems within the program and possibly prepare for its future expansion.

As for cost, which continues to be a subject of debate, Wendt has estimated that an expanded Dual Language program will cost the district about $1.3 million. Dual Language parents have asserted that the $1.3 million figure was inflated by the district administration to turn public opinion against the program, and the true cost of an expanded program is no more than $400,000. 

That’s in comparison to an estimated $369,000 it would have cost to implement the new single immersion language program for only native Spanish speakers approved by the board in February, according to administration figures. 

Wendt said the district likely will receive an additional $5 million next year from the state from increasing enrollment numbers, and may see another increase in General State Aid of several hundred thousand dollars if Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to fund 95 percent of GSA is approved. Currently the district receives only about 88 percent of its GSA.

Board members again spent a good portion of the debate on whether board members with students in the program should recuse themselves from voting on the matter. Ploger, Banks and Bauman each have children in Dual Language. 

O’Neil reiterated his stance that the three were violating ethical boundaries by discussing and voting on programs that he said directly benefit their families. Paul accused Banks and Ploger of not being forthcoming during the campaign leading up to the April 7 election about their status as Dual Language parents. 

“That’s not true,” Banks said. “I said on several occasions that I had a child in the program.” 

Ploger also said he had discussed his status as a dual language parent.