Meeting on French program planned Parents have bickered at Crofton Woods over immersion classes


School board President Joseph Foster says he wants to end the bickering among parents at Crofton Woods Elementary over the school's French immersion program. So he has asked the board to meet at the school to help the community talk through its problems.

"There seems to have been a great deal of controversy, a lot of questions and a general lack of understanding what the program is all about," Mr. Foster said. "This is the best way to address that."

Mr. Foster, a board member for three years, said he has never seen a community so up in arms about one educational program.

Parents who support the French program and those who oppose it have shown up regularly at board meetings to express their views, even though the class started more than a month ago. For the potshots and divisiveness to go on this long is too much for him, said Mr. Foster, a board member for three years.

"I can't think of another program that has generated this much discussion," he said. "On the other hand, it's good to see parents become this involved in an issue at their school."

No date has been set for the meeting, but it is likely to be in November or December, school officials say.

French immersion is a voluntary program in which students learn to read and write in French before they do so in English. Formal instruction in English would begin in second grade. The aim is to produce near-bilingual students by the time they reach middle school. Studies have shown that the method also sharpens critical thinking skills and broadens awareness of other cultures, educators say.

The board voted in June to partly fund the pilot program and asked the community to come up with $20,000. Parents contributed about $10,000, and school board member Michael A. Pace donated the remainder.

Opponents have continued to lash out at the immersion program, saying it drains resources from the rest of the school and creates a school within a school. This year, 30 kindergartners are in the program.

"It's not going to be a neighborhood school. You're going to be jockeying for materials," said Karen Koch, who has a daughter in second grade.

Peter Zimmer, principal of Crofton Woods, said parents on both sides of the issue are beginning to cooperate. Last week, about a dozen parents met at Crofton Woods to develop a survey to gauge community sentiment about the program. A school system surveyor will draft the questionnaire to ensure its validity.

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