Fewer families applied this year for Teton County School District’s dual immersion program and a handful of those who got in have turned down the offer.
For the past six years demand for the program has been increasing. This is the first dip in applications since 2011.
In 2009 Teton County School District introduced dual immersion, in which equal numbers of native Spanish speakers and English speakers share a classroom and learn half the day in each language. The program is designed to help bring up test scores of students who don’t speak English as their first language while promoting multiculturalism. There are roughly 600 students in the program, which spans kindergarten through eighth grade currently and will expand into high school in the fall.
Entrance into the program, which can only take a certain number of students, is chosen through a lottery system. The luck of the draw can be hard to swallow in a small community where some see the program as divisive or unfair because it isn’t open to all.
This year the families of 50 English-speaking students applied for the program along with 45 Spanish-speaking students. With 68 slots divided equally between language groups, 34 from each group were accepted.
Of those who applied in 2017, six turned down spots when offered — five English-speaking families and one Spanish-speaking family.
Chad Ransom, the director of student services for the district, said that every year there are some accepted students and their families who choose not to enroll in the program. He did think the number of families who declined is more than in years past.
The overall number of applicants for 2017’s program spots was 95 — the lowest number since 2011, when 81 students applied.
The peak number of applicants for the program so far was in 2015, when 127 students applied in the lottery.
District officials wouldn’t guess about reasons for this year’s decline.
“It wasn’t something that we asked parents, so it would really be speculation on our part,” said Charlotte Reynolds, the district’s information coordinator.
A few parents who didn’t accept the dual immersion offer didn’t want to speak ill of the program or be interviewed for this story.
The number of students accepted into the program varies year by year as the school manages bubbles in the student population. In 2018 Munger Mountain Elementary School will open as an entirely dual immersion school for kindergarten through fifth grade.
Some say the location of the school, south of town, might be influencing interest. At the time the school board made the decision to locate the dual school at Munger Mountain some parents said they’d consider pulling their child from the program due to transportation logistics.
District staff asked them to wait a year before making such a decision. School board trustees have said they will work to make transportation for all families as smooth as possible.