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Emotions high at Spanish Immersion meeting

Anger over the possible closure of a District 833 elementary school to house an expanded Spanish language Immersion program brought more than 600 people on Tuesday to the first of two public meetings on the issue.

The meeting at Woodbury High School was contentious at times as parents told school board members they want to keep the program, as it is, in a shared facility with 300 students in a traditional program alongside 320 Spanish Immersion students at Crestview Elementary School in Cottage Grove. Alternatives include closing one of four neighborhood elementary schools, including Crestview, to house an expanded Spanish Immersion program.

"My school feels like home to me," said Zoe Voerster, an Armstrong Elementary School fourth-grader told board members. Armstrong is another school a task force suggested could be closed to make room for a stand-alone Spanish Immersion program.

Rich Cochrane, a Royal Oaks Elementary parent, argued for the importance of neighborhood schools. He thanked the board for "waking up the sleeping giant" of parents in four local schools to unite in opposition.

"Do the right thing," he said.

The audience responded with hoots, hollering, whistling and clapping.

Board Chair Leslee Boyd said audience responses would allow less time for people to speak, but parents ignored the warning.

Diane Gustafson brought her daughter, Sydney, who uses a wheelchair and attends special education classes at Woodbury Elementary, to the podium.

Disabled students would lose their friends if they were moved, Gustafson said, in a tearful voice, in addition to access to adapted toilets, changing tables and special equipment.

As the allotted time of three minutes per speaker ended, Boyd told Gustafson her time had expired.

"Let her speak," said a voice from the audience.

The next speaker, Mark Moffat, stepped to microphone to give his time to Gustafson.

Boyd said conceding time to another speaker was not allowed, repeating what she told the audience at the start of the meeting.

Moffat stepped to the microphone for his turn and read the remainder of Gustafson's statement.

The uproar came after a district task force earlier this month issued a report to the board about possible expansion of the Spanish Immersion program, also known as Nuevas Fronteras, after a group of parents asked the board to expand it last spring.

A rule that allows preference for siblings of children already in the program left only 16 kindergarten slots in a lottery with 43 parents on a waiting list.

Task force recommendations included leaving the program as it, splitting it between Crestview and Bailey elementary schools or closing Royal Oaks, Woodbury, Armstrong or Crestview to accommodate a freestanding Spanish Immersion program.

The second public meeting on the Spanish Immersion issue is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at Park High School.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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