Chavez parents fighting to keep Spanish immersion program

Chavez parents fighting to keep Spanish immersion program

Parents at one elementary school on Madison’s west side are fighting for a special language program as the district says it may need to be discontinued at the school.

The dual-language immersion program has been incredibly popular and is now offered at seven elementary schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District. But Chavez Elementary School may lose its program next year, and that has parents fighting for other options.

Learning happens almost entirely in Spanish in two Chavez Elementary School classrooms as part of the DLI program. Katie Johanski’s daughter, Ayla, joined the program last year.

“What an awesome opportunity for her to be able to go to a public school that is in our neighborhood, a program she can be fluent in Spanish by fifth grade and bilingual by eighth grade,” Johanski said. “It’s a great opportunity and we couldn’t pass it up.”

The district expanded to the Memorial attendance area two years ago and district officials hoped they’d get enough Spanish speakers to match the interested English speakers, making it a true dual-language immersion. Instead, after a second year, the district has discovered the numbers don’t add up.

“It is a one-way immersion,” said interim MMSD Superintendent Jane Belmore. “That’s a valid way to have a classroom set up but not the way the district approves these classrooms.”

Belmore said the numbers show the district likely can’t offer another dual-immersion class next year at Chavez, so the district is looking at options for current students.


“It’s a difficult one, and we’re trying to listen to parents and look at the reality of enrollments and resources to figure out what is the best way to go,” Belmore said.

Johanski isn’t sure what that is, but she said it needs to involve making sure her daughter and other students, who were told they’d be behind in some subjects until third grade because of the immersion, are still given good opportunities.

“We’ve invested some time into it, so I think we would find another school or another district that had an immersion program,” Johanski said.

Belmore said the district is considering whether there’s another school in the Memorial attendance area to offer DLI, and whether the district can send these children to other schools with the right number of students or offer more Spanish classes. All of these decisions have to be sorted out by March.