Parents speak out on bilingual education changes


Cedar Ridge parents speak out against bilingual education changes

A sign outside the Cedar Ridge Elementary School library is shown in 2018. It is is one of many throughout the school that helped Spanish-speaking students and English-speaking students learn each other’s language.

Lenore Sobota

NORMAL — Three parents of Cedar Ridge Elementary students spoke to the McLean County Unit 5 school board Wednesday night, addressing recent changes to the bilingual program that district officials said are part of district-wide shifts in classes as the hybrid model begins.

Superintendent Kristen Weikle said bilingual education “will remain mostly unchanged for students both in remote and hybrid classes” at Cedar Ridge. However, bilingual students in grades 3-5 who remain in 100% remote learning will be assigned to a monolingual teacher.

English was not the primary language of 31% of the school’s students in 2019, according to state data.  

A representative from The Immigration Project, a nonprofit provider of legal services with offices in Normal and Champaign, reached out to members of the community this week, urging them to support Unit 5 parents of bilingual students who have concerns.

“Advocacy is not the mission of Immigration Project,” wrote Sarah Mellor, community navigators manager for the firm. “I personally felt that I could not ignore this mom’s plea for our support of immigrant children.”

Demecio Rodas, the father of a Cedar Ridge student, said he is concerned about the bilingual education and support his son will receive with a monolingual teacher because the child primarily speaks and writes in Spanish at this point.

Those 11 students who will learn remotely in grades 3-5 will be given English as a Second Language and bilingual literacy support, “to provide them the essential standards of the grade level as well as the linguistic support we know they will need until we’re all able to be back in person,” Weikle said.

Another parent, Irma Gomez said she doesn’t believe the kindergarten through second grade students should be grouped together, which is part of the plan for the younger remote students.

Weikle said those 10 students will learn together from a bilingual teacher while they continue to learn from home.

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To accommodate remote and hybrid learning, classes across the district and grade levels have been combined and rearranged, including 50 certified staff members at the elementary level being given a remote learning assignment, Weikle said.

The hybrid model will begin next week, bringing back Unit 5 students in pre-kindergarten through second grade as well as sixth and ninth graders.

The remaining grades — third, fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth, 10th, 11th and 12th — will come back the week of Oct. 26-30.

In other business, Hope Wheeler, a principal auditor from CliftonLarsenAllen, gave an audit report for the district and said there were no findings for Unit 5, indicating a “clean audit.”

Board members Mike Trask, Alan Kalitzky and President Amy Roser praised Unit 5’s financial leaders for their work toward a “clean bill of health,” which Trask compared to pitching a perfect game.

The 2019-20 audit was approved by the board.

A contract between the district and Unit Five Education Association for 2020-23 also was approved by the board Wednesday. With this contract, the district will meet the state requirement to pay teachers a minimum of $40,000 per year a year earlier than mandated.

Gallery: Vintage back-to-school ads

Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.

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Superintendent Kristen Weikle said about 79% of Unit 5 students will return to classrooms in the second quarter.

Students could begin to return to McLean County Unit 5 classroom at the start of second quarter, the district announced Thursday.

Eighteen parents and four educators addressed the school board during Wednesday’s meeting at Normal Community West High School.

The structural deficit at McLean County Unit 5 could expand next year as a result of changes in expenses caused by COVID-19, district officials said Wednesday.