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Would the Mandarin magnet program at Glenwood Elementary cause more racial inequity?

Glenwood Elementary Mandarin Porgram
DTH Photo Illustration. A student points at an illustration of a cow accompanied by the Mandarin word on a practice worksheet in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Monday, March 18, 2019. Glenwood Elementary resolved to expand their Mandarin immersion program and phase out other tracks, prompting redistricting for current kindergarteners whose parents did not want them to participate.

The proposed Mandarin Dual Language Magnet Program at Glenwood Elementary School, approved by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education on Sept. 20, has raised concerns of racial inequity and improper planning. 

The program was originally to go into effect in the fall of 2019, but was delayed until fall 2020.

The Racial Equity Report Card, produced by the Youth Justice Project, reported white students in Orange County were 2.2 times more likely to score as “career and college ready” than Black students in the 2017-18 school year, based on standardized testing.  

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP chapter believes the racial inequity that the Mandarin program would create is part of a deeper problem in the community. Wanda Hunter, co-chairperson of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Education Committee, said the Mandarin program furthers this inequity because of the way that it was planned and is being implemented, not just the program itself, as she recognizes that dual-language and bilingual programs can be beneficial. 

“In many ways, equity has been an afterthought to this decision,” Hunter said. “Equity should have been at the forefront of the decision, and instead it has been an afterthought.”

In 2015, the Campaign for Racial Equity in Our Schools created a report urging leaders and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools administration to make an equity plan. The district also committed to using a Racial Equity Impact Assessment tool, which is a guide of questions to ensure equitable decisions are made.

One aspect of the tool is engaging key stakeholders, those who would be the most adversely affected by the decision, in the planning process.

“If we were trying to create more equity, more opportunity, for these groups of people who have been adversely impacted, they would have been the first people we would have invited to the table,” said Hunter.

A town hall meeting, sponsored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Education Committee, was held Thursday to inform the community of the REIA tool, the district’s commitment to use it and ways it can be better incorporated into decisions. The ending sentiment was that each point of the tool should be used, equity should be the most important component of decisions and transparency is key.

Another complaint about the program is it will take resources away from other areas that could benefit more students.

Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for CHCCS, said he doesn't think one program necessarily takes from another. 

“I think each program is measured on its own merits when it comes to finances,” he said. 

Nash said since Orange County has two school districts instead of one, one district cannot ask for considerably larger funds than the other.

Kristie Mather, Mandarin Advisory Committee co-chairperson, said by the third year, now second since the delay of the implementation, the money saved from hiring five fewer teachers exceeds the cost of the program. 

Hunter said more than potentially taking away resources from minority students, the issue is about the structure of opportunity in the district.

“Our question is who is the opportunity for, who did we have in mind when creating this program?" Hunter said.

She said an important aspect of equity in this instance is not just disadvantaging people of color, but creating a program that advantages white and Chinese students.

A statistic that concerned some community members was once the program is implemented, the number of Black students would drop to 2.1 percent of the school’s population compared to a district average of 11.4 percent.

Mather said the statistic was calculated under the assumption that no new students would enter the kindergarten class, and only the first-graders currently on the waitlist would enter; and all traditional track students would leave. She said she thinks neither of those assumptions are realistic.

The CHCCS administration has made a commitment to recruiting more families that have traditionally been underserved in the past, she said, and a lack of marketing for the program has led to a misconception of the program, which is a lottery and does not select for a particular group.

Mather said research shows dual-language programs can be beneficial for all students.

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“For those kids that are traditionally underserved in the public system, their scores rise more than kids who are advantaged,” Mather said.

The magnet implementation committee is working on a compromise proposal that came from teachers at Glenwood. This plan keeps both traditional and Mandarin tracks while capping enrollment to solve overcrowding issues. It will be presented in May 2019 and voted on in June.

A group of parents started a petition to recall three CHCCS Board of Education members, over the vote that approved the Mandarin program. Since implementation was delayed, board elections will occur between now and the start of the program.

“In the fall of 2019, there are board elections, and there are four seats open on a seven-member board, so that could change a lot of things,” Nash said.

Hunter said CHCCS has one of the highest achievement gaps in the state, although it is a highly resourced school district.

“We just think this is something that we should feel deep shame and concern about and that we really have to be focusing our efforts in that direction, and we don’t see that that's what happened in the Mandarin program,” Hunter said.

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