Parents eye fate of bilingual program

School board members in Patchogue-Medford say they have no plans to cut a popular English/Spanish language program but have raised concerns among parents after announcing the potential layoffs of at least two of its teachers.

Supporters say the dual-language program helps foster ethnic harmony after the 2008 killing of Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue.

Patchogue-Medford is slated to shed 58 of its 600 teachers by the end of the school year, said school board member Joseph LoSchiavo.

Even if the dual-language program loses its teachers -- who are low on the seniority list -- the district will find replacements, he said.

LoSchiavo said the only way to save any of these jobs is if the union agrees to concessions.

Paul Pecorale, president of the teachers union, said members have already "made a fair and reasonable offer that provides considerable savings" coupled with more than $1 million in concessions last year.

LoSchiavo said the percentage of non-English-speaking students in his district went from 4 to 25 percent in the past dozen years. He said it's vital to meet Spanish-speaking students' needs or risk their dropping out, and that he would not vote for cutting the program.

The district's 2-year-old voluntary dual-language program serves students in kindergarten, first and second grades; half speak English and half speak Spanish. Teachers alternate between the two languages -- speaking English one day and Spanish the next -- in an effort to help them become bilingual.

"We definitely did the right thing by starting this program," LoSchiavo said. "It's vitally important."

Jennifer Scully said one of her 5-year-old twin daughters is in a dual-language classroom; the other is on a waiting list. She said the program benefits English speakers as much as Spanish speakers.

"All of our children have the right to be bilingual, to compete in this world within the job market, as well as being able to communicate with their neighbors," she said. "We are an extremely diverse community and I fear that if programs such as the dual-language program are cut, there is a possibility that the hate, anger and fear that exists between races and cultures will continue."

One of the group of young men charged in the Lucero case was convicted of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime.

Lucero was chased down in Patchogue in November 2008 by a group of high school students, one of whom stabbed him in the chest. They later told police they wanted to beat up someone who looked Hispanic.

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