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Don't Nix Japanese Immersion, Parents Urge

Fairfax County Public Schools may cancel the Japanese Immersion program at Floris Elementary School.

Yasmine Bachmann drives her children 40 miles each school day from their Centreville home to attend class in Floris Elementary School's Japanese Immersion program.

She and her husband, who is in the military, found Floris on the Internet while he was stationed in Japan. Upon returning to the United States, they found a home in Fairfax County specifically so their three children could enroll at a school that would teach nearly every subject in Japanese.

"We are a family that moved to this community for this school," Bachmann said. "I'm sure there are other families around the county who have done the same as my family."

Bachmann was one of 50 parents, teachers and students who urged Fairfax County Public Schools officials Tuesday night to halt a recommendation to cancel Floris' Japanese Immersion program.

The school system is considering eliminating Floris' Japanese program to save roughly $130,000 a year, to maximize school facilities and staffing, and to bolster the Japanese Immersion program at Fox Mill Elementary School, said Betsy Goodman, the assistant superintendent who oversees Floris and 23 other schools.

"We realize that the Japanese Immersion program is a part of Floris' culture," Goodman said. "We know that parents are very passionate about it."

But Goodman said too many Floris students leave the Japanese Immersion program in upper grades, leaving class sizes for fourth, fifth and sixth grades with as few as 13 students. That simply is not an efficient use of teachers and class space, she said.

UNDER THE SCHOOL system's proposal, the Floris Japanese program would phased out and merged with Fox Mill's program starting in the 2006-2007 school year. Fox Mill's Japanese program has nearly twice as many students.

Cutting the Japanese Immersion program would be a loss for Floris because it teaches students more than in-depth language skills. It also offers children throughout the school a global perspective and fosters tolerance of other cultures, many parents and students said Tuesday night.

"It's such an awful thing to do to this school," said Judy Pilcher, mother of two children in the Japanese Immersion program.

Pilcher said she is worried that Floris' culture and prestige would be eroded by eliminating Japanese immersion.

"We just want to keep what we've had at this school for the past 16 years," she said.

Herndon resident Rick Auman, father of two children in the Japanese program, said the school system has yet to articulate the problem they are trying to solve by phasing out Japanese immersion at Floris.

It seems absurd, he said, that school officials believe the best way to strengthen Japanese immersion in Fairfax County is to close one of the school system's three Japanese programs.

"I question how we're getting a strong and robust Japanese Immersion program when we're shutting it down at Floris," he said.

Goodman said there will be three more community meetings to discuss the issue, with a final recommendation not being made until September.

If the program is eliminated at Floris, it may be replaced with the "Foreign Language in the Elementary School" program, which would teach all Floris student a foreign language for half an hour two or three times per week.