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updated: 12/8/2010 12:11 AM

District 220 to teach Chinese to elementary students

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Barrington Unit District 220 board members voted 6-1 Tuesday to accept a $1.5 million federal grant to implement the teaching of Mandarin Chinese at the elementary level next year, over the objections of the teachers union.

While all board members expressed favor with the educational opportunities afforded by the grant, they've been mulling the related financial and logistical consequences of the program since August.

Board member Nicholas Sauer ultimately cast the lone vote against accepting the grant, based on these concerns.

"I think if we got this (grant) right now, we can go after it again when times are right," Sauer said.

Board member Jeff Church also expressed deep concerns about these issues, but was satisfied with the assurance that parents enrolling their children in the program would be duly warned that it could be canceled or have its school location changed in any future year if district finances demanded it. Teachers union president Melanie Collins said the union's objections were based on both financial concerns and the possibility of current teachers being replaced by those who spoke Chinese.

Board President Brian Battle and Superintendent Tom Leonard said they were unsure whether implementation of the program would have such an effect on current staff.

The board also made clear in its motion that if the Chinese program ever came into conflict with other students' ability to attend their neighborhood schools, the program would be moved before redistricting would occur.

District 220 officials plan to ultimately spread the elementary program's six grade levels across three school buildings.

Barbara Rose School in South Barrington is where the teaching of Chinese at the kindergarten and first grade levels would begin in August 2011.

Students from across the district who choose to join the program next year would then likely stay at the same school through fifth grade before joining up with the existing Chinese programs at the district's middle schools and high school.

Those who join the program at the kindergarten and first grade levels in 2012 and 2013 would start the process at Countryside School in Barrington Hills, while new students in 2014 and 2015 would likely start at North Barrington School.