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More favor English immersion
Metro West Daily News
By Charlie Breitrose / News Staff Writer

More of the town's immigrant children have chosen to go into the English immersion classes than traditional bilingual classes, but Framingham is one of the few places to offer parents a choice.

The staff of the bilingual education/English immersion department has devoted a lot of time to provide that choice, said Director Susan McGilvray-Rivet.

McGilvray-Rivet updated the School Committee last night about the district's program for students learning English as their second language.

Across the district, 324 students have received waivers to take bilingual classes: 24 at Framingham High School, 70 in the middle schools and 218 at in the elementary schools.

In comparison, 336 students in the district attend sheltered English classes, where most of the instruction is in English but students can get help from tutors who speak their native language in most grades. In the elementary schools, 247 students attend sheltered English classes, 121 in the middle schools and 68 at FHS.

Before the English immersion law passed last year, Framingham was a proponent of bilingual education. School Committee Chairman Phil Dinsky said the numbers show parents have been given a real choice of programs.

"With more students in the English immersion than bilingual, nobody can can accuse the district of stacking the deck," Dinsky said.

For students to be placed in a bilingual classroom, where teachers use both English and the student's first tongue, their parents must sign a waiver giving permission. Also, children 9 years old or younger must spend the first 30 calendar days in the district in a class where only English is spoken.

The waiver process and the 30-day requirement complicates the job of McGilvray-Rivet and her staff.

In the beginning of the year, teachers often worked 12-hour days so they could teach school and be available for parents who wanted to sign waivers, McGilvray-Rivet said. Because students come in throughout the school year, the department started an automated system to remind them when the 30 days were nearly up.

"The alternative is to place everyone in sheltered English classes and offer no alternatives," McGilvray-Rivet said. "But I think that would be educational malpractice."

Even in the current system, McGilvray-Rivet said the 30-day requirement causes a major inconvenience.

"If I'm a student who arrived from another country then I'm put in a class and the teacher knows he will not stay in the class but does his or her best to make me feel comfortable," she said. "I know I'm not staying in the class, I'm just doing my 30 days."

Along with the 30-day wait to get a waiver, the list of requirements is much longer for younger children.

Children over 10 only need parents' permission and the principal's approval. Younger children require approval from parents, a member of the bilingual department, the principal and the superintendent. On top of that, the bilingual department must write a statement saying what psychological or physical needs the student has requiring them to be placed in a bilingual class.

McGilvray-Rivet said she believes the district is ahead of most, adding that most don't offer waivers.

"If they are doing waivers they are doing it for the older kids, because it's less cumbersome," she said.

(Charlie Breitrose can be reached at 508-626-4407 or cbreitro@cnc.com.)