OGDEN — Despite a throng of parent objections to the move, the Ogden School District will move ahead with consolidation of its Spanish dual language immersion program, as discussed at a Thursday board meeting.
Currently, the district hosts DLI at T.O. Smith and Bonneville elementary schools, Mount Ogden and Highland junior high schools, and both Ogden and Ben Lomond high schools. Starting next year, the program will be held at East Ridge Elementary — the school replacing Horace Mann Elementary — and will continue at Highland and Ben Lomond.
The decision was initially voted on by the Ogden school board at a Jan. 21 board meeting, prompting outcry from primarily elementary school parents who say they were caught off guard. One parent, Amanda Carroll, told the Standard-Examiner in January that she estimated at least two dozen parents had come together to voice their concerns on the issue.
Two of those parents offered public comment at the meeting, describing their disappointment in what they felt was a lack of communication from the district and that the decision appears to benefit a more affluent part of the community.
“Too many people think of the DLI program as only a program that benefits native English speakers, and the reality is that it also benefits native Spanish speakers just as much,” said Ivan Carroll.
He continued, “Whether we take the program out of Bonneville or T.O. Smith, putting it up on the East Bench is putting it in one of the least diverse areas of our city. It’s in a neighborhood that has more affluence, more mobility, and the concern that we have is that removing it from the areas where people with lower mobility are is going to make it more difficult for them to attend the program.”
Another parent, whose first name was inaudible but said her last name is Krueger, described moving to Ogden from South Dakota and choosing to buy a house in T.O. Smith Elementary boundaries so her son would have the opportunity to participate in the DLI program. Although she said she understands the reasoning behind the decision, she was frustrated to find out about if from a party other than the district.
“I have received multiple voicemails this week about the weather being cold, about snow,” Krueger said. “These are awesome, and they work because they’re really direct and clear, and I really appreciate them. I found out that dual language was being moved through a Facebook group. That really shakes my faith in the whole system.”
After the public comment period, district officials proceeded with an hourlong presentation explaining how they came to the conclusion to consolidate and why they did it in the manner they did.
Superintendent Rich Nye said he appreciated parents’ comments and involvement in their children’s education, but that the district’s decision was significantly impacted by declining enrollment.
A sizable proportion of school districts’ funding is determined by their number of weighted pupil units, or their enrollment. According to counts from the Utah State Board of Education, the Ogden School District saw a 7.36% drop in enrollment in 2020.
At Bonneville and T.O. Smith elementary schools, specifically, enrollment has generally declined over the last six years. The number of students in DLI has simultaneously go down. Cohorts have gotten smaller each year, and as each group progresses through grades, it shrinks.
The 2015-16 cohort at Bonneville Elementary started in kindergarten with 50 students. By the time that group reached sixth grade in the 2020-21 academic year, only 11 students remained in the DLI program. The school then had to recruit more students to the program by “knocking doors, registering with the counselor, finding out anyone that’s interested,” according to Nye.
“The feasibility, budgetarily, has been compromised significantly due to the declining enrollments,” Nye said.
One of the reasons the district landed on East Ridge Elementary for the DLI location is because it is a larger school with room to grow, Assistant Superintendent Chad Carpenter said. The new school building is currently under construction and set to be completed before the start of next school year.
The low enrollment is not a new problem, and is one that the district has been discussing how to approach since 2017. At that time, it considered increasing funding for the program, phasing out the program, ending it immediately, consolidating it or changing nothing. The district ultimately stuck with the status quo.
That conversation resurfaced in 2020 as T.O. Smith Elementary temporarily moved to the former Gramercy Elementary building, Carpenter said, as officials worried what that would mean for enrollment.
In a survey earlier this school year, the district asked parents, “If the DLI Program were NOT in your child’s boundary school, would you still have your child participate in the program?”
Overall, 67% said “Yes,” and 21% responded “Yes, but transportation may be an obstacle.” For Spanish-speaking parents, the numbers were similar, with 72% of parents saying “Yes,” and 20% saying “Yes, but transportation may be an obstacle.”
“So as we’re looking at that ... that’s 88% of our families,” Nye said. “That was a big piece in determining, you know, we can consolidate it and we can explore consolidating it at a location where it can run optimally.”
The district plans to run buses from T.O. Smith and Bonneville elementary schools to East Ridge Elementary to accommodate students who hope to continue participating in the DLI program. It is also considering the feasibility of other courtesy bus routes to bring in students from other parts of the district.
Aside from funding, small class sizes lead the DLI program to face a number of challenges, according to district officials. Each DLI class must have two teachers — one to teach in Spanish and another to teach in English.
Teaching a class that studies in two languages can be difficult for elementary school teachers, according to one response to a survey administered by the district. Recruiting teachers who have both the language and teaching abilities to instruct in such a program can also be hard, according to Carpenter.
Students also tend to struggle socially in the DLI program, multiple teachers said in response to the district survey. They spend their elementary years with the same group of students and often end up being seen as the “other” class. It also leaves teachers with few options to handle behavior issues.
School board member Nancy Blair, who formerly taught in an elementary school, said after pondering parents’ comments and looking over district data, she stands by the school board’s decision.
“I’ve experienced first hand the impact that declining enrollment and reduction of funds can have on a community school,” she said. “I taught second grade and I saw a lot of programs come and go because of funding — good programs. We do not want to lose this program. … We’ve reached a point where we can’t continue the DLI program without consolidation and relocation given the impact of declining enrollment.”