Last week, the Durham County school board voted unanimously to keep the Spanish-English dual language programs offered at Lakewood and Bethesda Elementary Schools, following weeks of parents and advocates calling for the program to continue. 

Because Durham Public Schools (DPS) is in the middle of systemwide redistricting, the school board’s plan was to remove the program from Lakewood and Bethesda and relocate it to the larger Southwest Elementary following the redistricting process. But many parents found issues with the program leaving Lakewood and Bethesda, especially since both programs haven’t even finished their original six-year runtime with the program. 

“Over the past three years, we’ve witnessed an incredible amount of passion and work going into making this program a success despite all the obstacles caused by remote school, learning a language while masked, etcetera,” Arton Rigsdale, the parent of a student at Lakewood Elementary, said during a May 31 public hearing. “And now that it’s finally starting to feel established and settled, to hear that it might be dismantled is incredibly disheartening.”

Lakewood and Bethesda Elementary are considered Title I schools, meaning both schools receive federal funding to help low-income students academically excel. At Lakewood Elementary, over 50 percent of the student population is Hispanic, and at Bethesda, the Hispanic population is approximately 35 percent. Both schools started their dual-language programs in the 2019-20 school year after the Durham school board voted to approve the program in April 2019

“The vast majority of Hispanic students enrolled at Lakewood come from families of low educational and socioeconomic status, who do not speak English,” Angela Duran, the parent of a student at Lakewood Elementary, said during the May public hearing. “The dual program has given these families the opportunity to send their children to school without the fear of language barriers and racial discrimination, as well as the confidence to communicate with the people who care for their children seven hours a day, five days a week.”

Pascal Mubenga, superintendent at Durham Public Schools, said the Durham board of education initially oversimplified the dual language program schools as similar to magnet programs, where students from all across the school district may apply to access the program. However, Mubenga said, neither Lakewood nor Bethesda Elementary are magnet schools, and that the DLI programs for both schools are “designed and implemented for those particular school populations.”

At the June 23 meeting when the board approved continuing the program at the two schools, Mubenga said Lakewood and Bethesda Elementary can choose to continue their dual-language programs based on available demand and resources, and in response, the DPS board has opened five regional dual-language program applications for Durham public schools to apply to. 

“I hope this has been able to clarify the misunderstanding we had,” Mubenga said. “We had a lot of parents and advocates who came to speak to our board.”

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