Students studying Arabic as a foreign language in the Southern Lehigh School District will have to head to the virtual classroom in the fall after federal sequestration forced funding cuts to a teacher exchange programs.
"The good news is the teacher we currently have on staff will head back to Egypt, but we've made arrangements for her to continue to teach our students remotely through K12 Blending Learning, an online provider," Superintendent Leah Christman told directors at Monday's school board meeting.
Christman said the remote learning details were being worked out, but that students who had studied Arabic in the classroom during the past two years would retain continuity in their studies.
"Our students will have the benefit of a teacher they already know, and studies they are already engaged in," Christman said.
The Arabic teacher had been provided under the Teachers of Critical Languages Program through the U.S. Department of State.
It is designed to increase the number of Americans teaching and studying Arabic and Mandarin. The district also has two teachers from China teaching Mandarin. In grades 7 to 12, there are 42 students studying Arabic, and 190 students studying Mandarin Chinese.
About $1 million, or 30 percent of the funding, is slated to be cut next year.
Christman said the exchange program had originally planned to bring 24 Arabic teachers to the United States for the 2013-14 school year, but that the number was slashed to 16.
"We have had two consecutive years of Arabic exchange teachers, so that's one of the reasons we were dropped from the list for the fall," Christmas said.
The Southern Lehigh program is facilitated through the Berks County Intermediate Unit, Christman said.
Southern Lehigh plans to continue with live teachers in the Chinese classrooms with two new Chinese teachers, both males, arriving in the fall.
"This will be the first time we've had male exchange teachers," said director Dorothy Mohr.
In February 2012, the district reported enrollment of 151 students studying Arabic and Chinese through its foreign language exchange program.
In March, Christman was selected as one of the American interviewers sent to Egypt, to help with interviewing eligible applicants to come to the United States to teach in American classrooms.