Madison School Board debates keeping Dual Language Immersion at Chavez Elementary

UPDATE: On March 18 the MMSD School Board voted to end the DLI program at Chavez Elementary.

Parents still had questions as they filed out of the March 4 Madison School Board committee meeting held in the Doyle Administration Building’s McDaniels Auditorium.

The topic before the Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring Committee was whether to continue the Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program at Chavez Elementary School. One of the committee’s concerns was the program’s lack of native Spanish-speaking students.

DLI programs ideally have a 50-50 split of native Spanish- and English-speaking students, interim Superintendent Jane Belmore said at the beginning of February, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Parents told the committee there was poor communication from the district regarding the Chavez program, and some presented suggestions to keep the program running. They also expressed frustration over the school district’s turnabout on a program around which families had based long-term decisions.

Parents signed a six-year contract promising to stay with the DLI program through their children’s fifth grade year. When families made this commitment, they assumed the district was planning to continue the program for this length of time.

“People buy houses or plan to stay…and plan for their families,” said Austin Albrecht, a father of a six- and three-year-old.

Albrecht’s older daughter, now in first grade, has been at Chavez for two years. He said the family expected their three-year-old to attend the school too.

The committee did not decide whether to continue the program and instead opted to further review the situation and potential effects before making a decision.

“I think we do need more analysis,” said Mary Burke, chair of the committee. “I actually think this is a long-term decision. When we start new programs I think we need to understand that we are making commitments and obviously this was something that was in writing. If the parents signed it, I’m sure they felt, in fact, that we were making a commitment, too.”

Many parents were also frustrated by the perception that they would have to decide where to enroll their children for the coming year before the Board makes a decision about the Dual Language Immersion program.

Some parents floated the possibility of looking at schools outside Chavez Elementary or the Madison Metropolitan School District.

“Now a lot of people are actually looking to move,” Albrecht said. “Verona is starting a program, and it’s right there.”