UPDATED STORY: Parents of Mandarin Language Students Protest Cuts at School Board

Parent Robert Liu speaks to the school board Tuesday night. Liu was not satisfied with Giulioni’s response, saying he did not believe her. Liu also said if the classes have a cap of 20, and there are 184 students enrolled, you need the three classes reinstated to satisfy the full enrollment. Five classes take care of 100, not 184 Liu said. Photos by Steve Whitmore

About a half-dozen Chinese-American parents attended the South Pasadena School Board meeting Tuesday night protesting the district’s plan to eliminate three Mandarin foreign language classes.

The cuts will result in students losing the ability to attend the foreign language class of their choosing – a requirement to graduate high school – and will cause class overcrowding, according to the parents. The District initially scheduled eight Mandarin classes, but March 5 announced the elimination of three.

“With the current enrollment for 2018-2019 school year, we are concerned that our students will not be placed into classrooms at the appropriate levels,” Robert Liu, a decade-long resident of South Pasadena with two children in the School District, told the School Board Tuesday night. “The overcrowded classrooms, and class with combined levels, will definitely hinder students’ effective learning. In addition, some students will have to give up the program because of limited spaces and schedule conflicts.”

The parents sat nearly throughout the entire meeting holding hand-made signs reading, “Say No to Cuts,” and, “Keep all Our Language Classes.” The group left the meeting hall minutes before the board adjourned for the night.

The District’s enrollment from K-12 grades is about 4,794 students, according to district records. The high school has about 1,489 students.

As of March 15, 184 students had signed up for Mandarin classes, according to Liu.

Parents held up signs during the course of the South Pasadena school board meeting. Photo by Steve Whitmore

“As a mother of an incoming 9th grader of South Pasadena High School, I am here to express my concerns with the hope that my daughter and many of her friends would have more options to choose (to study a) foreign language they like at San Marino High School, especially Chinese, (which is) the only Asian language available in the South Pasadena School District,” Megan Xu, a two-year resident of South Pasadena, told the School Board Tuesday night.

Xu said the savings to the District would be less than $40,000 because it only affects a part-time teacher.

“They won’t tell us the savings, but I figured it out and it’s not much,” Xu said before the meeting.

School Board member Julia Giulioni was the only board member who responded to the parents about the elimination of the classes. Giulioni said the District is committed to the foreign language program. She also thanked the parents for sharing their concerns and applauded their involvement in the School District.

Giulioni said the District made the decision to cut the classes out of “an abundance of caution,” and all students will be able to attend the foreign language class of their choosing.
“We have to air on the side of caution,” Giulioni said. “We made this decision based on the information we had March 5. We are going to offer the appropriate number of classes. We all need to take a breath and see what the schedule looks like.”

Liu was not satisfied with Giulioni’s response, saying he did not believe her. The Advanced Placement Chinese classes have a cap of 20, all other classes have a cap of 36. Five classes could take care of 164 students. Twenty students will not have a space, according to Liu.

“With current enrollment of 184, five classes will take care of one AP class at 20, and 4 regular classes at 4 times 36 equals 144, with a total of 164,” Liu said in an email. Twenty students will not have a space.”

The parents have asked for a meeting with the entire school board to discuss the reinstatement of the language program but have received no response from the District.

Liu said he is not hopeful the meeting will ever take place.

“Parents have been emailing the superintendent about this problem and he’s responded by saying there is no need for further discussion,” Liu said outside the meeting.

Liu presented a reporter with the South Pasadena Review the text of Superintendent of Schools Goeff Yantz’s response to the parents’ emails.

“As shared in a prior email, the master scheduling process is complex, fluid and conducted over a long period of time by the school administration,” Yantz says in the email to parents dated March 22. “Distributing raw data that changes for any course, taken out of context, and not commonly understood by a layperson is counterproductive and not appropriate. Respectfully, there is no need to further discuss this matter.”

Liu said he understood their protest may not yield the response they were hoping, but it was important nonetheless to voice their concern.

“It’s important that we tell the Board our opinions,” Liu said before the meeting. “We have to voice our opposition to these cuts. We have to be heard. It’s for our children.”