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Responding to parental concerns, school board rethinks Spanish-language textbooks

In response to local residents’ concerns that a Spanish-language textbook series "¡Qué chévere!” presented culturally insensitive information, the Glendale School Board voted Tuesday to rescind a previous vote they had made in June to adopt the books.

The board’s decision wasn’t what representatives of the textbook’s publisher, EMC Publishing, had hoped for, according to co-author Alejandro Vargas, who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“We were expecting to have a different decision, but we respect the decision from the board,” Vargas said, following the board’s unanimous vote.

Some local parents, however, were pleased with the board’s move, which will lead to Glendale educators reviewing textbook materials again, this time with parents’ input, before making a final recommendation to the board.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Marsha Ramos, a former Burbank mayor and member of the Glendale Latino Assn. who, in July, began to speak out against the books.

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“I think they get it. Negative stereotypes and inappropriate age-level materials is not acceptable,” she added. “I am concerned that the '¡Qué chévere!’ series will be in the review process [again] and teachers and parents who disagree on the textbook will be immediately in a place of conflict. That’s concerning to me. How do you move on? My hope is that it will be very clear by then, that it’s not acceptable to the values of the Glendale community.”

For his part, Vargas hopes that a new set of teachers and parents review the '¡Qué chévere!’ series.

A native Spanish speaker from Colombia, Vargas said that as the book’s co-author, “The last thing that I would do is to try to offend the same people as my race. We are hoping that a new set of teachers and more parents get involved to review our program again. Our idea is to engage the students in the language and to the culture.”

Before the board voted to not adopt the books, EMC Publishing agreed to change at least one introductory sentence that parents spoke publicly against during recent school board meetings.

One paragraph in the book addressing food in Mexico City began with the following: “‘Excuse me waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.’ Well, in some Mexican dishes, it might be part of the recipe!”

Parents spoke out against the sentence for its negative portrayal of Mexican cuisine, saying flies are not presented as edible insects in restaurants.

EMC Publishing vowed it would remove that sentence, which was intended to “grab the reader’s attention with a commonly told joke and to connect a current trend in Mexican cuisine with the pre-Hispanic custom of eating insects as a protein source,” according to their statement.

In place of that sentence, the publisher said the passage would instead begin with, “In some Mexican dishes, insects might be part of the recipe.”

The series was slated to serve about 3,200 middle and high school students studying Spanish as a foreign language.

The majority of a 20-member textbook review committee made up of Spanish teachers across Glendale Unified had vetted the "¡Qué chévere!” series and recommended it for adoption before it went to the school board for final consideration in June.

In response to parents’ opposition to the books, school officials held off on purchasing them.

The price tag would have ranged from $384,000 to $730,000, depending on teachers’ decision to purchase additional online components that accompany the textbook.

Parent Lupe Van Keuren was pleased with the board’s move to open up the review process again.

“The decision, we think, is the best thing for our kids,” she said.

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Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @kellymcorrigan


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