Computer glitch scrambles SF immersion programs

June 6, 2011 8:55:56 PM PDT
A computer mistake is to blame for placing some San Francisco students in language immersion programs intended for other students. The school district says it's now corrected the problem, but some parents are still skeptical.

When it comes to language immersion programs, the classroom is divided with 50-66 percent of the class knowing the target language, the rest not. This way, at the end of the day, the kids who speak English learn Spanish and the Spanish speakers learn English, for example.

But before they even enter the classroom, incoming kindergartners are tested and the school district gives students two codes.

"One code indicates that they are target language speakers, they speak the language and the other code indicates that they don't," San Francisco Unified School District spokesperson Orla O'Keeffe said.

But, the school district's computer had a glitch and randomly began switching codes.

"And as a result of that at some of our schools the balances fell below the 50 percent and there were three schools in particular that that happened at and these happen to be schools that are really highly requested by people who don't speak the target language," O'Keeffe said.

Initially the school district did not notify parents of the mishap.

"To then find out it was mishandled was upsetting, then it felt like, 'OK, I didn't lose the lottery fair and square I was potentially cheated out of something,'" parent Marie Libeson said.

"And they said, 'I don't know why this would happen, some mistake happened and we'll definitely correct in the second round, don't worry,'" parent Therese Rodriguez said. "It was not corrected in the second round."

By the time the district noticed the problem there were now too many kids who spoke primarily English. So in order to restore the balance, parents were either offered places at other schools or in the case of the Chinese immersion school at De Avila, they had to open another kindergarten class.

There is no doubt immersion programs in San Francisco are popular and very much in demand. This year, 39 percent of all applicants requested some kind or immersion program.

Parents say they are not giving up and hope to eventually get a spot.

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