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Debate over Dual Language Immersion program in Missoula school continues

DLI Debate Paxson
Posted at 9:10 AM, Jun 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-15 11:10:09-04

MISSOULA - The debate over Paxson Elementary School’s Dual Language Immersion (DLI) Program in Missoula continued on Tuesday evening.

School is out for summer, but the debate regarding Paxson Elementary’s Dual Language Immersion Program is still in session.

MTN News has covered the controversy as it has unfolded over the last few weeks, and Tuesday night, the debate over whether or not to modify the DLI program was brought to the attention of the Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) board -- once again.

Almost 100 Paxson parents have now filed a grievance with the MCPS school board regarding Superintendent Rob Watson’s recommendation to modify the DLI Program at Paxson Elementary.

In the document, parents outlined frustration of what they consider a secretive process to eliminate the DLI program without parent involvement or input. “This has been pushed through at the last hour and at the last minute,” one parent said.

Watson told the room he would have liked to take more time with the process, even approach it differently, but that didn’t change his mind on the recommendation. With backing from Paxson Principal Julie Robataille and numerous staff, Watson says students are getting left behind.

“We've got kids at the school in the pipeline that need help next fall, and that means we've got to do something different with our schedule,” Watson said.

According to Watson, they’ve also turned away refugee and special education students because of the current DLI program— and as a neighborhood school, Paxson isn’t allowed to do that.

“We have a federal mandate to serve special ed kids in their neighborhood school because that's the least restrictive environment, so it only takes one kid that we have to say no to, and that's a violation of our federal mandate,” Watson explained.

His recommendation to shift from a 50/50 Spanish English model to 45 minutes of Spanish instruction ultimately passed on Tuesday evening. For a number of teachers and staff, a different approach to learning and a modified approach to Spanish learning is a positive.

“I am here today to advocate for this change. I feel passionately that it is something that we need to do for our kids, for our struggling learners, for our refugee students for our ELL students,” one Paxson employee said.