The Mansfield school district's new plan to implement an Arabic-studies program has the curriculum as an option introduced over the next four years.
The program, funded by a five-year, $1.3 million federal Foreign Language Assistance Program grant, was to begin this semester at Cross Timbers Intermediate School. After more than 200 parents showed up at a meeting Feb. 7 to express concerns, the district backed off. Parents said they were concerned that they had not been told about the program and that it was to be mandatory.
"This gives us the best chance to meet the guidelines from the grant and address the concerns of our parents," said Richie Escovedo, district spokesman.
Parents seem to like the new plan.
"This gives parents and students the choice we were looking for when this hit the fan," said Jennifer Zamboni, whose son, Parker, is a sixth-grader at Cross Timbers. "Thankfully, they put that word optional in there again."
Under the new timeline, Arabic studies would be offered this fall at T.A. Howard Middle School as an exploratory class for seventh-graders and as a foreign language for eighth-graders, who can use it for high school credit. Howard eighth-graders could also choose Spanish, just like other eighth-graders in the district.
In 2012, Cross Timbers would offer optional Arabic exploratory during advisory periods, while Summit High School would offer Level 2 Arabic as a foreign language option.
In 2013, Summit would add Level 3 Arabic, and Kenneth Davis Elementary would begin optional language exploratory.
In 2014, Summit High School would offer Level 4 Arabic and Advanced Arabic for Native Speakers.
"The majority of us wanted it to be a choice and to know about it ahead of time," said Cindy Henderson, whose son, Kolton, is a fifth-grader at Cross Timbers. "I really think it's good for us to understand other languages and cultures."
Kolton, who will be able to take the class in a couple of years at Howard Middle School, says he's excited about learning another language but probably won't choose Arabic.
"I think it would be kind of cool to know another language," said Kolton, 10. "I would rather know Spanish because Mexico is right there. I would be able to talk to anyone."
Davis, Cross Timbers and Howard are feeder schools to Summit High School.
The University of Texas at Austin, working with the Mansfield district, identified Cross Timbers as a target because 10 percent of the district's Arabic-speaking population attends the south Arlington school.
The district also offers Chinese, Russian, Spanish, French, German and Latin. Students may begin taking language classes in middle school to fulfill their high school requirement of two years of foreign language.
Zamboni said that although she is pleased that the district made Arabic studies an option, she still wishes that parents were involved.
"There has been no communication except for the letter that was sent out schoolwide," she said.
Zamboni plans to send her son to Pantego Christian Academy instead of Howard Middle School next year.
"This was probably just the last straw," she said. "It's not the right place for him. He needs smaller classrooms, and I'm worried about the budget cuts across the state.
"Our students need to excel at the basics before moving on to electives."