School Board Looks To Replace ‘Sibling Link’ with Lottery for Language Immersion Program Admission

Public to comment on tentative policy change before it sees a final vote


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Younger siblings of students enrolled in language immersion programs in Montgomery County public schools would no longer have guaranteed seats in the same schools under a system policy change tentatively approved this week.

With the decision, the county school board is revisiting the system’s custom of granting students spaces in immersion programs attended by older siblings. Members are looking at replacing this so-called “sibling link” with a lottery system that randomly selects applicants, but gives younger brothers and sisters of immersion students better odds of admission.

The shift, which would kick in for students entering the program in the 2018-2019 academic year, could open the immersion programs to more diverse range of students, school board members said

A recent study commissioned by the school system found that almost a third of students accepted to elementary immersion programs in the 2013-2014 school year were siblings. The proportion of siblings was even higher in certain programs, reaching up to 46 percent.

“So it creates less diversity of students who can fill those seats,” school spokesman Derek Turner said.

Language immersion programs are offered at seven elementary schools and five middle schools in the county. Normally, students are admitted through a lottery process and go on a waitlist when all of the spaces are full, Turner said. 

Expanding these offerings is a goal of Superintendent Jack Smith, who included more than $190,000 in his proposed budget for establishing two-way immersion programs, which involve both native English speakers and foreign language speakers, at elementary schools.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting, a couple of members raised the advantages of keeping brothers and sisters together when learning a new language.

“The benefit of siblings being able to communicate in the target language is indisputable,” board member Jeanette Dixon said.

Instead of changing the policy, school officials should bolster communication and outreach efforts in order to foster diversity in these programs, she added.

Dixon abstained from voting on the policy change, which received tentative support from all other board members.

The board will now seek public comment on the tentative policy change before it makes a final decision, according to Turner. The change wouldn’t apply to children with older siblings in the program during the 2017-2018 school year; those students would still bypass the lottery system, according to the proposed policy.

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