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Parents' plea for more French rejected by School Committee

Posted by Johanna Seltz  May 19, 2010 08:53 AM

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Upset that their children didn’t get into the French immersion program at their neighborhood school, dozens of Milton parents last night asked the School Committee to add a class at the adjoining Cunningham or Collicot schools instead of the Tucker.

But school officials said there wasn't room at the Cunningham or Collicot, and adding a French class there would displace other programs, such as art, music, or special education.

Another suggestion -- to raise class size from 26 to 28 students -- was criticized by a parent from the Tucker School.

The parents making the request already have won a concession from the school administration, which decided last week to add another first-grade French class at the Cunningham School next fall to accommodate the large number of first-graders there who want the program.

School officials originally planned to house two extra French classes at the Tucker School -- which is three miles from the Cunningham and Collicot schools -- and bus students there.

The disgruntled parents' main complaint was that the new lottery used to chose students for the French immersion classes penalized older children -- and children without siblings -- since students with siblings already in elementary school automatically got into the popular program at their home school.

"I'm not asking for special treatment," said Ali Rogerson, whose daughter is an only child and did not get into the French program at her neighborhood school. "I'm asking that all children be treated the same. I feel the lottery has penalized the oldest and only children in town."

Students in the immersion classes are taught entirely in French in first and second grades, gradually adding lessons in English through high school. They are bilingual by the time they graduate and typically rank in the top of their class, according to school officials.

The program started in 1987 with 45 first-graders and now includes 1,104 of Milton’s approximately 3,900 students.

Parents have a choice of the French immersion program or putting their first-graders in English classes where Spanish also is taught. However, parents are not guaranteed of getting the program of their choice at their neighborhood school and may have to pick one or the other, said Assistant Superintendent John P. Phelan.

This year almost 60 percent of parents of first-graders wanted the French immersion program, he said. The popularity of the program -- plus the fact that next year’s first-grade class of about 350 is the largest in years -- led to a larger number of disappointed parents than usual who didn’t get what they wanted for their children, he said.

“The goal is to … provide neighborhood schools for as many as we can, but in the end we will always have parents who will have to make a choice between their home school and a program. It’s just by nature of offering the choice," said Phelan.

"That’s not comforting to parents when it’s their child; we understand that. But on balance, it represents a small percentage of families who unfortunately have to make that choice.”

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seelenfam@verizon.net.

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