Possible end to German program ignites uproar

Plans to phase out German dual-language classes at Franklin Elementary School has caused an uproar, with some parents accusing district officials of misrepresenting their long-term commitment to the program and others vowing to do whatever it takes to save it.

“What we are upset about is the fact that we really got blindsided by this,” said Eva Sippel, the mother of a German-language kindergarten student. “Nobody talked to us previously. If you call every single German parent they will all say the same thing — utter and complete shock.”

Parent Kathleen Hand said that she and others will call on Glendale Unified officials to continue the program during a meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. today at Franklin Elementary.

“Our main and only focus is to have the program reinstated fully and completely with no changes,” Hand said.

First launched in 2008, the German dual-language program now includes kindergarten through third grade, with the second- and third-grade students enrolled in a single split class. It is one of three dual language offerings — the others are Spanish and Italian — at Franklin Elementary, a language magnet school and the hub of Glendale Unified’s burgeoning Foreign Language Academies of Glendale.

Commonly referred to as the FLAG programs, the district-wide dual-language offerings now include six languages at nine Glendale school sites.

But while Franklin’s Spanish and Italian programs are flourishing, German has faltered, according to Glendale Unified Deputy Supt. John Garcia. The district has not attracted high numbers of applicants, and has struggled to hire teachers credentialed to teach German.

Complicating the issue is a desire to launch a French program, as well as space concerns — Franklin is expected to top 600 students in the next few years, Garcia said.

During a school board meeting on Dec. 13, he recommended that German be phased out, starting with the district admitting a single additional German kindergarten class composed only of the siblings of current students starting in fall 2012.

The district is dedicated to seeing those students matriculate through Franklin, he said Monday.

“We are absolutely maintaining a commitment to the students who are [currently] in the program, and any students that we bring in for the 2012-13 school year,” Garcia said.

The plans as outlined also included the introduction of a French program, and changing Franklin from a K-6 school to a K-5 school.

Garcia emphasized that the Dec. 13 board presentation was consistent with district protocol, and that no changes have been implemented yet. He said he and other Glendale Unified officials are eager to receive input from members of the Franklin community.

But many German program parents said they would have liked Garcia to come to them earlier and share the challenges he outlined for board members.

“That really was a punch in the gut,” German parent David Zaft said. “It felt like a breach of trust. We should have been asked to participate and give input to the decision.”

Franklin families are deeply invested in the school and their respective language programs, parents said. In some cases they turned down slots at private schools, or high-performing public school districts like San Marino and La Cañada Flintridge, to enroll, they said. And many have younger children that they also want to study German.

Kindergarten parent Mary Vardaman said she researched the German program extensively, and was impressed when a site tour guide said that program officials were looking for a seven-year commitment from participating families. Now she is worried that both district and parent buy-in will wane.

“My son is not even three months into the program,” Vardaman said. “For them to say, ‘We may have your commitment, but you don’t have ours’ is shocking.”

Judy Reilly Brousseau, the mother of three Spanish dual-language program students at Franklin, said that the change would impact the entire campus, not just the German program families. The Franklin community is happy to welcome a French program, but not at the expense of German, she said.

“I understand the district’s problem, it is a real one” Brousseau said of the space constraints. “I think they should have come to us sooner. Now that they are coming to us, I hope they are open to real changes to their scenarios.”

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