This is an open letter to the editor of Richmond Times Dispatch, in response to an article published March 17, 2017, which reported that Dorothy Jaeckle, chairwoman of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, recommended against directing resources toward growing classes of English-language learning (ELL) students.
To the Editor of Richmond Times Dispatch,
Unless and until this country decides to turn its back on public schools and what public schools represent—education for everyone, regardless of race, religion, language, national origin, gender identity, sexuality, or financial status—Chesterfield County Public Schools, as with all school districts, will serve an increasingly diverse student body. This diversity presents great opportunities and great challenges for our schools. The increasing diversity of our schools is neither new nor easily addressed, but it is central to the mission of all American public school systems. Students enter school with a range of needs. Some come to class with no breakfast and no warm clothes for winter. Some arrive without a command of English and with parents who have little formal education. During any school year, some students will become homeless, and some students will find that their disability—diagnosed or not—engenders serious social and academic adjustment issues. These kinds of students are typical in Chesterfield County and, indeed, in Richmond, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, Louisa, and Goochland. These challenges may lead some to characterize diversity as inconvenient, expensive, and exasperating. However, these are all our children, and through our tax dollars and our commitment to our community, they are our obligation—and our privilege–to teach. Moreover, we must not ignore the fact that all children bring to schools, and to the world, both needs and talents. Diversity is a strength, for schools and communities.
The recent conversation in Chesterfield regarding school resources in relation to the merit of English learners is disturbing. Some comments made misrepresent English language learners as less legitimate and less deserving than native English speakers. Public schools serve all learners, whether or not they are native speakers, and regardless of their immigration status. In addition, it is wrong to assume that everyone who does not speak English is in the US illegally.
Our communities are peopled with a variety of individuals, and when some require extra help—especially some of our children– it is our civic and moral obligation, as a democracy built on public schools as avenues of opportunity, to offer that help. It is the most patriotic and American thing we do and, in the long run, it is also the most economically and socially advantageous. Through public schools we create literate and capable adults, and our community is richer for it.
Richmond Teachers for Social Justice