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28352: Hermantin(News)School language survey sparks debate (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Sun, Apr. 23, 2006

School language survey sparks debate
The gloves came off at a Morningside Elementary meeting over who would be involved in picking languages for the school's new curriculum.

Several Haitian Americans and Upper Eastside parents sparred at a Monday meeting over how Miami-Dade school officials should conduct a survey to pick a language or languages for a new curriculum at Morningside Elementary.

The proposal was controversial because the survey would not only include parents with children enrolled at the school, located at 6620 NE Fifth Ave., but all residents in neighborhoods served by the school, including Morningside and Belle Meade.

In the end, district officials decided to survey all residents, citing a ''strong interest'' in the community as an exceptional circumstance.

''It's only fair they have some opportunity to express their opinion,'' Miami-Dade School District spokesman Joseph Garcia said, referring to Upper Eastside parents who may not have children at the school.

Tension between the two sides over how the district should decide whether Haitian Creole, Spanish, French or a combination will be incorporated into a proposed dual-language program has ebbed and flowed in recent weeks. For a few years, several Upper Eastside parents have pushed for improvements in Morningside, a C-ranked international magnet school that has seen declining enrollment over the years.

Divisions over the school's direction have often been defined along racial and class lines. About 75 percent of the students at the school are of Haitian descent.

Monday night, disagreement appeared to have reached its zenith, almost immediately after the meeting began.

School officials distributed preliminary surveys to the more than two dozen people in attendance. Parents, as well as Morningside teachers, will be asked to pick one of the following three language options:

Spanish and French for the regular school day, and Haitian Creole for a Saturday academy.

 Spanish and Haitian Creole for the school day, and French for Saturday.

 French and Haitian Creole for the school day, and Spanish for Saturday.

The surveys provoked a heated discussion.

''I don't think it should be a community-wide survey,'' said Patricia Fabien, a Morningside alumnus who has pushed for Creole to be one of the languages. ``To me this seems unprecedented.''

But it wasn't, according to a school official.

Joanne Urrutia, a director for the district's bilingual education and world language department, noted that a similar community survey was undertaken for a foreign language program at Emerson Elementary. The survey then went before the school board, she said.

Most vocal about the community-wide vote was Leonie Hermantin, an activist who works for the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center.

''My position is not about language,'' Hermantin said. ``It is about the process. Suddenly those voices [of the parents at the school] are not sufficient. The issue again is about respecting the people who did not hesitate to send their children to the school. The district has gone out of its way to renovate the school . . . It's insulting.''

Garcia said the district revamped the school because it's a zone school.

Although officials said the community serving Morningside would be invited to take part in the survey it was not clear Monday how they planned to advertise the survey. The survey would most likely be in the form of a vote at the school, on a Saturday for a couple of hours.

''This is by no means a typical situation,'' Garcia said after the meeting. ``It's clear there are sensitivities. The sensitivities were established tonight. Nothing can move forward until this decision is reached.''