300 Birmingham ESL students facing mid-year switch have option to stay, finish out year

(UPDATED 7:30 PM) BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — About 300 ESL students in the Birmingham City Schools system were facing a tough first day back to school over the winter break, but now have another option.

Earlier this month, Birmingham City Schools announced 300 students would have to switch schools during the break, as they were expanding the ESL programs from 12 schools to all of the 43 schools in the system. Parents were upset and highly concerned about their children’s ability to thrive in a new school that could also have a brand new ESL program.

Now, Birmingham City Schools interim superintendent Dr. Contri says with signed parental consent, those ESL students can remain where they are through the end of the 2016-2017 school year.

A group of demonstrators came to the central office, Thursday afternoon, to express their concerns about the changes coming to the school system.  They had chosen Thursday, since withdrawal forms for those 300 ESL students were due to be turned in by Friday–the last day of classes before the winter break.  Less than an hour into the demonstration, Dr. Contri invited the crowd inside.

He explained to the group that every four years, the system undergoes state compliance monitoring–at which time they got a recommendation from the State Department of Education that ESL services should be available in all 43 schools instead of the 12 where they are currently operating.  Contri said that he was told emphatically that they would need to operate a comparable ELS program in all 43 sites within 30 days.

“I can’t tear up the school system and get everything in place in 30 days,” he said of a statement that he made to the State Department of Education.

Contri said he was told that Birmingham City Schools would have no later than January 4th to get the ESL programs in place.  He said that the system made a $168,000 investment to train 300+ teachers to be prepared for ESL students returning to the schools that they were originally zoned to attend.  “Still not agreeing with the decision,” Contri added.  However, Contri said they were just following the mandate from the state department.

However, the more that the system talked about change to the ESL programs and hosted informational meetings with parents; the more questions and concerns that came up.

Thursday afternoon, as the demonstrators met outside, Contri explained that he was on a conference call with the Director of Federal Programs.  “After much conversation, the decision was made–and listen intently,” Contri told the demonstrators.  “Any ELS parent who wishes to remain where their child is presently being educated with written parental consent may remain for the remainder of the 2016-2017 school year.”

He promised that students would not see any change in the status quo, including transportation–if they did not want to switch schools–for the remainder of this year. However, when schools open in the fall for the 2017-2018 year, Contri explained that students will be dispersed to their zone.

Forms to keep ESL students at their current schools will be at the schools on Friday only from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm.  If parents can not make it to the school to sign the form tomorrow, then they can come to the central office on Monday and Tuesday from 8:00 am until 4:30 pm.

Contri explained that it is very important for parents to give them ‘signed parental consent’ because that is what they will give to the state department as part of the system’s documentation.

“We, like you,” Contri told the group, “we’re always focused on our children, and we want to do what’s best for them.  So we’re delighted, as well as you are.”

To get more information, visit the Birmingham City School’s website.


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