Friday, August 24, 2012

Don't Speak Spanish? No School for You.

Overheard in the town square (aka Facebook):
I heard something this past week end that just appalled me if it is true, hope someone can answer it for me. I heard that if Spanish is not your first language you can not enroll in Richardson Heights Elementary, I certainly hope that is not true of any school in the United States of America unless it is a private school. Anyone know if this is true???
Source: Facebook.
Appalling, sure. If it is true. If. There's the Constitution and all that, right? Equal protection of the laws. So, of course it's not true. So, how can anyone believe that blatant discrimination by a government agency could possibly be true? Maybe because it is. Kinda. Sort of. Not really, but close enough for high dudgeon on Facebook, anyway.

After the jump, the possible source of the misunderstanding.

The Richardson school district (RISD) offers a pre-kindergarten program:
To be eligible for the district Pre-Kindergarten Program a child must be 4 years old on or before Sept. 1 of the upcoming school year. The child is eligible for enrollment in the Pre-K program if he/she meets any or all of the following criteria:
  • The child is limited English proficient (LEP), or
  • The family meets the free/reduced lunch income eligibility guideline, or
  • The family meets the criteria of "homeless", or
  • The child is an active military dependent, or
  • The child is or has been in foster care
Source: RISD.
There you have it. Assuming your child doesn't qualify for any of the last four reasons, the tyke might still qualify if he or she doesn't speak English. It's easy to imagine, through a process similar to the childhood game of "telephone," that this could morph into "if Spanish is not your first language you can not enroll in Richardson Heights Elementary."

Is there justification for the LEP requirement? I think so. If you believe in equal opportunity for all (and who doesn't?), then it's hard to look at kids who show up for the first day of kindergarten not proficient in English (or hungry, orphaned or homeless) and believe that those kids will have the same opportunity to succeed in school as everyone else. Offering pre-kindergarten to them is a way of helping them overcome their early life handicaps. That's a Good Thing™, even if the pre-kindergarten program sometimes gets understood as "if Spanish is not your first language you can not enroll in Richardson Heights Elementary."


glbeach said...

The "if you don't speak Spanish" item compels me to write. This perspective - wherever it originated - simply shows the blatant racist bias and bigotry of some small minded soul.

I don't recall the exact number of languages encoded as selectable in the R.I.S.D. student enrollment system, but the number 53 comes to mind and I'm pretty confident it is something along that order of magnitude. Spanish is one of those. Additionally removing English from the mix leaves 51 others. That means there are large numbers of people from all over the world that have children attending school in RISD. All races, creeds colors, religions . . . all bringing their own hopes and fears and joys and ideas for success in this their chosen new home.

I hope all of them have the opportunity to learn English effectively and grow up to be outstanding citizens of these United States.

Mark Steger said...

A reader suggests another hypothesis to explain what's going on here. Each year, RISD scrambles to accommodate as many students as possible at their neighborhood school. But if a school is full and a parent misses the cutoff for enrollment, there just might not be room. Also, RISD offers "English as a Second Language" programs at all schools. It's possible that a school might have room in one of those programs, but no room in the regular classes. In that case, a child with limited English proficiency might be able to get in while an English-speaking child might not. RISD struggles with this every fall, as do many school districts.