I am the parent of two children who attend the Language Academy, a language immersion magnet school in the San Diego Unified School District. My children are both students in the French immersion program, which constitutes half of the school’s student population – the remaining half is in a dual-language Spanish immersion program.

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I recently found out that four of 10 of our K-5 French teachers have received layoff notices from the district, which is hoping to fill a $124 million budget shortfall. Our support staff is also affected by the layoffs. I had hoped that our school would not be affected due its unique and highly specific teacher needs – they must be fluent in French and qualified to teach French at the K-8 level.

These layoffs, especially at our unique magnet school, are not the right solution to the district’s problems. Currently, the district is competing with charter schools and private schools for enrollment. By organizing these massive layoffs, the district is hurting its own image. Parents who might otherwise consider sending their children to district schools might see these cuts and subsequently enroll their children in the very charter schools that the district is competing with. After all, who wants to send their children to understaffed schools?

The teachers currently employed by the district are incredibly talented, resilient and dedicated. Every year, we give them bigger classes and increase our expectations of them. Frankly, I find it unconscionable that the district would add the inherent stress of potential annual layoffs (and then possible late-summer re-hirings) to teachers’ massive workloads and efforts. The importance of teachers to the betterment of society cannot be understated, and we are treating them like rag dolls to be passed back and forth on a whim.

I have always considered public education to be one of the most important pillars of our community. A good, free education is the right of every child, and income should not be a barrier to this right. A solid public school system is the foundation of an educated, civic-minded, and levelheaded future populous. We need good teachers to make good schools.

The district needs to reconsider these cuts. At the Language Academy, we certainly cannot afford to lose qualified and hard-to-find French-speaking teachers, but this issue hurts students and teachers across the district, especially at the schools with the some of the poorest students.

In 2011, the San Diego Unified school board launched a major effort to put a quality school in every San Diego neighborhood by the year 2020. Were they serious in this endeavor, or was that just a hollow promise they hope parents will forget?

These layoffs will push students toward charter and private schools and erase any efforts in slowing the stream of students who transfer to charter or private schools. Though teacher layoffs might seem a quick fix to very real budget issues, they will lead to far more long-term damage to the district and the schools than they are worth.

Christen Bernabe is a business owner who lives in the College Area. Bernabe’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.


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