Schools approved as ESL centers

Some teachers were upset. Some parents were concerned. And some board members feared they hadn’t been told the whole story.

But after an emotional discussion, Lawrence’s school board gave its final approval to a new policy that would set up Sunflower and Schwegler schools as English as a Second Language neighborhood schools.

The new policy would mean teachers at those two schools will need to take 18 hours of college coursework to become ESL certified.

The policy, which was tentatively approved last month, is designed to help the district deal with an expected influx of non-English speaking students over the next few years.

About 30 people, including more than a dozen teachers from Sunflower School, attended Monday night’s board meeting.

The main concern of parents and teachers was that longtime teachers at the school, especially those nearing retirement, would transfer. Many also were concerned about the hardships placed on teachers to take classes outside of their regular workday.

The policy was approved on a 5-2 vote, with board members Craig Grant and John Mitchell voting against it.

Grant and Mitchell tried to get the vote on the policy postponed until the next meeting. However, their motion to do so failed.

The district currently has two “cluster” ESL schools: Hillcrest and Cordley. Demographic studies have shown that many of the ESL students in future years will live in the Sunflower and Schwegler boundary areas, so the board decided to designate those two schools as “neighborhood” ESL schools.

Mitchell and Grant questioned whether the ESL certification requirements for the neighborhood schools should be the same as the cluster schools. Mitchell said there wouldn’t be as many ESL students in the neighborhood schools, so not as many ESL teachers would be needed.

Grant said he wanted more information why college coursework would be better than in-service training, which would be done during the school day.

However, Sue Morgan, board president, and Linda Robinson, board vice president, said their understanding of the policy was that there should be no difference in the training required at either the cluster or the neighborhood schools.

Morgan also said many of the concerns that teachers and parents had during a March board meeting had been resolved.

For example, teachers would not have to sign an agreement to stay at the school for a period of time if they started taking the ESL training, which is being funded by the district, she said.

Also, teachers would not have to repay the district for the ESL coursework if they did not stay at the school, she said.

And those who were planning to retire early within two years would not have to take the training, Morgan said.

Teacher, parent concerns

However, there still were problems, according to Janet Breithaupt, a teacher at the school.

Breithaupt, whose voice broke as she said she had young children, said it would be a hardship to some teachers to take the additional classes outside the school day.

“Our plea today is to take a step back,” Breithaupt told the board. She suggested the ESL requirement could be met by teachers taking in-service training rather than additional college coursework.

Melanie Davies, a Sunflower parent, also said it would pose a hardship on teachers.

Another Sunflower parent, Sean Smith, had concerns that the “cluster model” of requiring all teachers to be ESL certified shouldn’t be extended to neighborhood schools.

After the vote, Grant was unable to get support from other board members to bring up the ESL requirement at a future meeting.

However, after talking about the issue for about 20 minutes, board members were urged to submit their questions to Superintendent Randy Weseman to see whether he could answer them.

Other action

In another matter, the board first met in executive session, then took action regarding a female Lawrence High School teacher who was arrested last month for allegedly having sex with a teenage student.

The board identified the teacher, but the Journal-World does not print the name of a person accused of a sex crime unless there has been a conviction.

The board decided to conduct a hearing at 8 a.m. April 20 to consider whether to cut off pay for the teacher, who has been suspended.

The board also decided not to renew the teacher’s contract for next year.

The 24-year-old teacher was arrested March 16 for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old boy between August and mid-March.

The teacher was scheduled to have a preliminary hearing today in Douglas County District Court. She has been charged with four felony counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child.