LINDENHURST, NY — A protest was held in Lindenhurst this week to demand the continuation of the Polish-English language program in schools that started last year. Between 60 to 70 people attended the protest in front of the Lindenhurst School District's Mckenna Administration Building Tuesday morning, according to the organizer Emilia Jablonowska.
Jablonowska said she planned the gathering after hearing that school officials wanted to terminate the program starting in September 2020 and replace the Polish-English class with two Spanish-English classes.
"We are rooting for all the communities but at the same time we don’t want to be discriminated, when there is such interest in that type of education," she told Patch. "During the protest we were able to provide school with almost 400 signatures from Polish as well as American residents of Lindenhurst who are for the development of those programs."
Superintendent of Schools Daniel Giordano said in a letter to the community that when the 2019-20 Polish dual-language program was established at the kindergarten level, there were ten Polish-English language learners who participated. He said that despite the fact the program did not meet the state-mandated quota of 20 students, the district decided to move forward with the class.
However, for the 2020-21 school year, Giordano wrote that despite their best efforts, the district "experienced difficulty" with finding a certified and qualified teacher to meet the educational needs of the potential incoming kindergarten class. In addition, the State Education Department urged the district to examine the number of participants in the program and the likely decline of state school aid provided as a result of the pandemic.
"Moreover, due to circumstances beyond our control (a global pandemic) this district, and districts all across the state, have been unable to administer the NYSITELL, a screening tool that assesses the English language level of new students whose home or primary language is other than English," the letter from Giordano reads. "This tool helps districts to properly identify and account for the incoming number of English language learners."
Without the results from the NYSITELL screening, the district can't finalize the number of potential English language learners entering kindergarten who not only meet the district’s requirements for the program but also wish to participate. As a result, the district is preparing for the possibility of having the mandated number of English language learners entering kindergarten this year.
In addition to the class, Jablonowska says the protest, was included a large group of Polish parents from Lindenhurst, was to bring awareness to concern about the "treatment they're receiving from Lindenhurst School."
"We are treated unfairly and need your involvement to support us; to support our children in getting education they’re entitled to."
The program was created last year with the involvement of the largest Polish community on Long Island as part of the first Polish-English language program in grades K-5 in the district.
"The program has been a huge success for students as well as the school. There are approximately 18 children attending kindergarten who are taught in both languages: Polish and English side by side," Jablonowska said. "The Polish dual program is a two way immersion program which means that half of the class are Polish-English learners and another half are Polish heritage speakers."
She said that the program became so successful that the District Coordinator of World Languages, Jill Schilling, decided to convert existing Spanish program into a two-way immersion program, according to Jablonowska. However, Jablonowska said she was informed the Polish program would terminated due to the school not being able find a qualified teacher.
"Let us clarify that there have been many job candidates for this position (over 10) showing tremendous interest from Polish-English speaking teachers, however none of them were taken under consideration and allowed to apply," she said.
Jablonowska said that she was told by the school authorities that a teacher for a dual language program has to have the Bilingual Education Assessment completed to qualify for the position and in order to complete it, a 4-hour computer based test needs to be taken. However, the BEA exams have been already postponed multiple times due to the current situation with coronavirus.
"We pleaded with the school Superintended asking for an exemption surrounding the completion of BEA due to the current pandemic but the school doesn’t want to cooperate," she said.
"We’d like to make it clear that we are not asking the School to hire 'unqualified' teacher but to make an exception in regards to the time frame BEA is completed; candidates can’t be penalized and disqualified for the position while the State doesn’t provide the test required for the position. We understand that polish language is not as popular as others might be, but it just happens that polish community in Lindenhurst is the largest one on Long Island and Lindenhurst Schools landscape shows a growing number of registered polish speaking students."
In the letter, Giordano wrote that to date, only ten English language learners prepared to participate in the first-grade class and the number of incoming English language learners for the 2020-21 kindergarten class is still unknown. As a result, the district has made decision to re-adjust the program by moving the 2019-20 class of incoming first-graders to a general education classroom setting with additional ENL support for the 2020-21 academic year.
"This enables the district to keep the current Polish dual-language teacher in the kindergarten classroom, thus providing a new, and potentially larger, group of students with an opportunity to experience the Polish dual- language program," the letter reads. "The district is committed to ensuring that our English language learners, and all students, have the academic support they need in every classroom setting."
Jablonowska suggested several possible solutions to these problems, like having a current dual-language teacher teaching a Polish section of both classes on alternate days or hours and having a general education teacher teach the English part of the class.
"This way the school does not need to hire anybody and children are able to truly learn in both languages," she said. "Our children are not given the same and fair opportunities as other students in the district. We feel discriminated and frustrated as we know that there are ways to solve this issue. The bottom line is, that after all the research we did it comes to our understanding that it is in the power of superintendent to make final decisions. We will not stop fighting for our kids and their future."
All photos courtesy of Emilia Jablonowska