OGDEN — One decade after its launch, the Ogden School District is consolidating its dual language immersion program from two elementary schools, two junior high schools and two high schools to one each, and the decision is drawing complaints from parents.
Spanish immersion classes will move from T.O. Smith Elementary and Bonneville Elementary to East Ridge Elementary — the school replacing Horace Mann Elementary. DLI courses will also be phased out at Mount Ogden Junior High and Ogden High, leaving Highland Junior High and Ben Lomond High as the only secondary schools offering the program.
The district has been considering consolidating the DLI program since 2017, according to a timeline sent out to parents, and the school board unanimously voted to finalize the decision at a meeting last week.
“With DLI, there are some challenges, and I will say that these challenges have been around for a while,” said Assistant Superintendent Chad Carpenter at the meeting. “It’s a program that we constantly review, and we look and we analyze the challenges, we try to make adjustments.”
Carpenter listed four specific issues the DLI program has run into over the last few years: difficulty finding qualified teachers, declining enrollment within the program, reduced enrollment at host schools and an unsustainable cost.
In order to teach a dual-language class, a teacher must be well-versed in good teaching practices and fluent in both English and Spanish — a pair of abilities Carpenter said are hard to come by. There are plenty of educators from other countries who meet both qualifications, he said, but they often have trouble obtaining and retaining a visa.
“Our teachers are some of the best, and it does require a unique set of skills which are challenging to find on a large scale,” Carpenter said.
Some of those staffing challenges have caused the district to combine grade levels, according to Carpenter’s presentation.
Another reason for the putting multiple grades into one classroom is shrinking DLI classes. While the district may not have a problem filling spots in the program at the start of each cohort, when students are in kindergarten or first grade, it is difficult to replace students who leave the program. In order to get involved at an older age, a student has to test into the program — a rarely achieved task.
Simultaneously, Carpenter said, shrinking schools have also made the program difficult to maintain. Enrollment at T.O. Smith and Bonneville elementary schools has steadily declined in recent years, and both took a big hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 2016-17 school year, according to state enrollment numbers, T.O. Smith and Bonneville had 531 and 539 students, respectively. Those numbers are at 315 and 334 this year.
As each school’s enrollment declines, the amount of funding it receives from the state diminishes. Utah requires every DLI program to have two teachers per cohort — an expectation the district has struggled to reach. The amount of funds available to the district limits its ability to recruit and keep teachers.
Currently, there are 17 DLI teachers between T.O. Smith and Bonneville Elementary schools. Once the program moves to East Ridge Elementary, the district would be able to reduce that number to 12, Carpenter said, which would save the district approximately $380,000.
“With that savings, what we’d love to do is continue to reinvest in DLI on a number of fronts to continue to grow and have that program continue to be maximized,” Carpenter said.
As it cuts down on the number of teachers, Carpenter said the district will not be letting go of any of its employees. Instead, administrators “will meet with them individually to develop a plan that meets their needs and aspirations in staying in Ogden School District.”
District spokesperson Jer Bates said there likely won’t be any new positions created for these employees, which would cancel out the cost savings, but they will fill positions that become open next school year as other employees leave or retire.
Although the changes were posted on the school board’s agenda prior to the meeting, most parents of children in the DLI program were unaware of these modifications until after they were voted on by the school board. The Ogden School District sent an email to parents addressing the adjustments on Monday.
“I guess one of the big concerns is that they’ve said, ‘Hey, we’ve been looking at this since 2017 to figure out what might work best long-term for the program,’ and they’ve been discussing it for a while,” said Devin Hadley, whose son is a first grader in the DLI program at T.O. Smith Elementary. “All of the parents that I’ve talked to had no idea this was a possibility.”
Bates said the district communicates with parents about the status of the program every year. At the beginning of this school year, it sent a survey to parents to gauge their satisfaction with the program. That survey, however, did not mention the possibility of consolidation.
No matter what the parents’ answer would have been, Bates said, the move was necessary.
“Realistically, we know the answer,” he said. “The majority are going to say no, I don’t want to change. Either way, we’re going to look like a bad guy, but we’d rather move forward with this approach than make it even worse by asking, ‘Do you want us to do this?’ and they say, ‘No,’ and we do it anyway.”
Amanda Carroll, who has multiple children involved in the DLI program, said she realizes the reason behind the district not asking parents for their perspective but feels they should have been informed of the potential change earlier on in the process, before it was presented to the school board.
“It’s understandable to me that this decision wasn’t based on popular public opinion,” Carroll said. “But I do think better outreach to the community as a whole would have helped acclimatize parents to the ideas they were considering so there wouldn’t have been such shock when the proposal was suddenly presented and voted through.”
She, Hadley and a group of other parents — Carroll estimated two dozen — have been meeting with each other and reaching out to district officials and school board members to discuss their concerns about the move. They have also compiled a survey to gather other parents’ perspectives.
One of the main concerns parents have is that consolidating the program will limit access for students and families who otherwise would have been interested in participating. With DLI being at one school instead of two, transportation may become a barrier and knowledge of the program may be less widespread.
“They don’t have a plan in place for transportation, there’s no plan in place for which students will be accepted into the program moving forward,” Hadley said. “I would like a more thorough, thought-out plan.”
While no transportation plan has been finalized, Bates said the district is working on one. It is considering options like a courtesy bus route, which he contends may increase accessibility to the program.
Carroll pointed out that not all parents of children who participate in the program have the time to make their concerns known to the district, and for some, there is a language barrier. She hopes that her and other parents’ efforts to reach out to the district in search of answers to some of the questions they have will encourage it to be more proactive in disseminating information on its decisions to the community.
“We’re just finding every avenue we’ve got really to make sure that our needs and the needs of our students are being heard,” Hadley said.