Translated and condensed by Aleksandra Slabisz
The Dobra Polska Szkola Foundation (Good Polish School Foundation) organized a rally earlier this month to protest the removal of the Dual Polish-English Language Program at Daniel Street Elementary School in Lindenhurst, a town in Long Island with a sizable Polish immigrant community.
Polish parents, accompanied by kids and their grandparents, dressed in white and red, armed with Polish and U.S. flags and banners protested in front of McKenna Administration Building housing offices for the Lindenhurst Union Free School District.
“We want the school to continue the Dual Polish-English Language Program. We had one class, but the district doesn’t want to continue the program. We feel discriminated [against],” said Malgorzata Zelkowska, speaking through a loudspeaker. “At first they told us that they don’t have a teacher. When we found a teacher, they said the teacher didn’t have experience. What is going to be their next argument? No budget?”
The Dual Polish-English Language Program was created at Daniel Street Elementary School last year, and was met with a great deal of enthusiasm and interest among Polish families. Lindenhurst parents have been pushing for months to make sure the program will be available for the incoming kindergarten class who will be joining the school in September.
Parents were informed last month that the budget for 2020/2021 had been finalized, and did not include funds for the continuation of the Dual Polish-English Language Program.
Instead, the school principal offered ENL, or English as a New Language, a program for children not fluent in English. But parents say ENL has different goals than the dual language program, so they are fighting to have it reinstated so that their first graders can keep up the progress they made in kindergarten.
The protesters received support from the Dobra Polska Szkola Foundation, which was instrumental in the creation of the program when it launched in the 2019/2020 school year. The Foundation sent a letter to Daniel Giordano, the superintendent of the Lindenhurst Union Free School District, and prepared a petition which was signed by 400 residents of Lindenhurst and handed to the district board.
If need be, the parents are ready to go to court – that’s how a Russian-English program was introduced at one of New York’s public schools. The group also plans to petition to dismiss Giordano from the position of superintendent.
“I am happy to see so many mothers and other people outraged at the superintendent’s decision to discontinue the program that is of such importance to Polish families whose children were born in the United States,” said Maria Kochanowska, who attended the rally.
“In my opinion, we need to do everything we can so that our children can learn in two languages at school,” said Agnieszka Mazewska, a mother of two young children who will soon begin kindergarten at Daniel Street Elementary.
In response to the July 7th rally, superintendent Giordano wrote a letter to the Dobra Polska Szkola Foundation and parents which argued that the programming cuts were due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and were mandated by the state Department of Education. He explained that because of the pandemic he wasn’t able to “administer the NYSITELL, a screening tool that assesses the English language level of new students whose home or primary language is other than English.”
He argued that there were also too few children starting the first grade, which is why the school decided to move the class of incoming first graders to “a general education classroom setting with additional ENL support for the 2020-21 academic year.”
In a letter sent after the rally, however, he offered to keep dual language instruction in kindergarten.
“This enables the district to keep the current Polish dual-language teacher in the kindergarten classroom, thus providing a new, and potentially larger, group of students with an opportunity to experience the Polish dual-language program.
But families weren’t appeased. In response to the superintendent’s offer, Andrze Cierkos of the Dobra Polska Szkola Foundation wrote a letter to the district board saying Giordano made it difficult to find and hire a second Polish-English teacher, and violated regulations on testing the students.
“Discontinuing the program after one year of the dual language education which proved successful is a violation of the law. It is a waste of hard work that was put into the program by the school, families and children. It also constitutes neglect to the right of the students to free, high standard education,” wrote Cierkosz.