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Mandarin language debate dividing Chapel Hill elementary school. What could happen next.

Students learn Chinese calligraphy in this file photo taken at Glenwood Elementary School in Chapel Hill.
Students learn Chinese calligraphy in this file photo taken at Glenwood Elementary School in Chapel Hill. N&O file photo

Glenwood Elementary is a school divided as it awaits its fate, where some students in the Mandarin dual-language program have been bullied, parents and teachers told the school board Thursday night.

Parents of students in the school’s Mandarin-language tract urged the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education not to delay making the school the Mandarin dual-language magnet program approved in September.

But, responding to a request from CHCCS administration, the board voted 6-1 to move implementation from fall 2019 to fall 2020.

In the meantime, the board is also considering a new proposal developed by the Glenwood staff.

The proposal would retain more of the traditional-track students currently attending the school alongside the Mandarin students. It would keep the dual-language program, offer Mandarin to all students in a less rigorous curriculum than the dual-language program and make Glenwood a Global Studies magnet with Mandarin a part of that designation. Students in the Glenwood district would get preference in the magnet lottery.

A vote and an apology

Glenwood, the smallest school in the CHCCS district, has faced overcrowding issues for at least five years, and the district has considered various magnet formations as a way to reduce the population.

After a 4-3 vote Sept. 20 to make Glenwood a Mandarin dual-language magnet, then-Chairwoman Rani Dasi came back in November and apologized, saying the board had not followed its policies and should reconsider the vote.

Traditional-track parents, based on emails and text messages obtained through a public records request, have accused board members Pat Heinrich and James Barrett of strategizing with Mandarin parents about how to persuade board members to back a Mandarin dual-language magnet. Heinrich, who also has a daughter in the Glenwood dual-language program, cast the dissenting vote against delaying implementation of the Mandarin magnet.

During the public comment period of Thursday’s school board meeting, Mandarin parents and teachers urged the board not to delay the move to a Mandarin magnet. The school is already divided, and a delay would just prolong a painful period in the school’s history, they said.

About 40 people total spoke. Parents filled the board room, forcing the board to open two smaller overflow rooms with monitors showing the meeting.

‘Unsustainably toxic’

“The environment at Glenwood has grown unsustainably toxic,” said Mike Zhang, parent of a Mandarin student. “We don’t acknowledge each other in the halls.”

Zhang said the hard feelings are trickling down to the students, with one Mandarin student reporting regular harassment of Mandarin students by traditional-track students, saying “MDL should leave Glenwood.”

One parent told of another parent delivering doughnuts to the teachers but marking them to be for the traditional-track teachers only.

Traditional-track parents spoke in favor of taking more time and considering the teachers’ proposal.

“I hope the teachers’ proposal is where the community can start a discussion,” said Heather Craig, who has a son on the traditional track at Glenwood.

A group of NAACP representatives, meanwhile, said the Mandarin program is not reaching black and Latino students.

The full Mandarin magnet would, by administration estimates, have only six black students and 12 Latino students.

Work on the teachers’ proposal started in October, after the board voted to make Glenwood a full Mandarin magnet. The principal met with the staff to discuss a magnet that would:

meet the language-acquisition cultural enrichment goals of the school

unite the Glenwood community

increase equitable outcomes for all students

avoid displacing current teachers and students.

Also Thursday, the board chose a new chairwoman and vice-chairwoman, Magaret Samuels and Joal Broun respectively.

Matt Goad: mattgoad@gmail.com
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