URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – Families and teachers packed an Urbana School Board meeting Tuesday night. They were there to share concerns – or support – for an idea that could uproot some elementary students.
They’re considering merging dual language programs into one school – Leal Elementary. A petition against the idea already has hundreds of signatures. Tuesday, board members heard an hour and a half of public comment before hearing the full presentation from the district’s Spanish Dual Language Committee.
“Year after year, students share that they do not feel comfortable speaking Spanish outside our classroom. Year after year, I have students who do not feel safe walking to other spaces in the building to ask for support,” Kathleen Carter said during public comment.
Carter is a dual language teacher at Dr. Preston Williams Elementary School. She’s one of many people who spoke at the meeting about the controversial proposal that would merge the Spanish program at her school with the one at Leal.
“The reality is that we are still in a monolingual space the moment that students step outside of our classroom doors,” Carter said.
Last year, the district’s Spanish Dual Language Committee formed to improve the programs. To do that, they’re recommending changing Leal from a neighborhood school to a fully bilingual school.
“None of these neighborhoods should have to sacrifice their school for a failing of the dual language program and the administration,” parent Tony Allegretti said.
Parents like Allegretti are worried about the impact of the potential change on monolingual families, and he feels like they’ve been left out of the conversation. If approved, families like his would have to send their kids to another school next year.
“There are kids from every walk of life here, and we want it to stay diverse. We want it to stay local,” Allegretti said.
Ben Baxley said he moved near Leal so he could send his children there.
“It just feels like after moving here, the rug is being pulled out from underneath us,” Baxley said.
But those who support the change say the board should make a decision based on what’s best for the most students.
“It’s not about the inconvenience of having to pack up and move my classroom. It’s not about being separated from my monolingual colleagues who’ve become my family here in Urbana. It is about our emergent bilingual students,” Carter said.
In addition to the dual language program consolidation at Leal, the committee is offering two other options. In one option, they would focus on improving the current models at both schools. Or, they could postpone their work until a district-wide equity audit and program evaluation is finished in May.
In a preliminary straw poll, the majority of board members voted in favor of the consolidation at Leal. This December, the committee will be asking for a formal vote from the board.