Friday, April 12, 2024

WJCC School Board Member’s Comments on ‘Non-English Speaking Students’ Draw Criticism, Prompt Letter from Superintendent to Staff

The March 19 meeting of the WJCC School Board. (YouTube)

UPDATE: WYDaily reached out to Hosang for further comment which was received Monday, March 25 after this story was originally published. You can read his response here.

WILLIAMSBURG — Comments made by a board member at the WJCC School Board meeting on Tuesday, Mar. 19 elicited a response from the vice chair, who said the notions were racist, and later resulted in a letter to staff from superintendent Owlen Herron.

The comments came during discussions over the 2025 fiscal budget when board member Michael Hosang addressed topics concerning non-English speaking students.

Hosang said there had been an increase in non-English speaking students starting in WJCC schools that both students and teachers had not been made aware of which was having a negative impact on learning.

“I can tell you, there have been multiple issues where the teachers have not been able to teach their class because they have been focusing on these non-English students that were brought into their classrooms unannounced,” Hosang said. “That has caused issues regarding our students being taught later on. My daughter is not receiving some education because of the teachers spending most of their time trying to communicate with these non-English speaking students.”

“I would like to know what is being hidden from the parents and the school board,” Hosang continued after expressing that he had written to the school and not received a response. “It should be easy to provide information as to they these students are here, who they are, are they legally here, should we as a school district be spending our funds — which is dedicated to those who are citizens within our city and county — to those who might not be here legally.”

Hosang continued, expressing dissatisfaction with the lack of communication between the school and its teachers and parents regarding the arrival of these students. When the time came to vote on the budget, it was approved with Hosang being the only vote against it.

Later, during board member comments, Vice Chair Andrea M. Donnor addressed Hosang’s comments.

“So, I just want to be clear that each of us as board members, we have our own points of view, we have our own perspectives, we have this floor and this dais, and this platform to share those. And so as my colleagues have the opportunity to share what their views are, I’m going to take that opportunity at this moment,” Donnor said.

“I want to be clear, that saying someone who is coming to our school and because they are Spanish speaking, that they are an illegal, and that parents should be warned about their presence in our schools is racist,” she continued. “It is nothing other then racist. And that is not something that represents my point of view as a school board member. And I would want it to be very clear that is never a position I have ever heard us take as Williamsburg-James City County.”

She emphasized that they are there to educate children, regardless of immigration status or their parents.

Following the meeting, a letter was sent out from Herron to the staff at WJCC Schools, the purpose to communicate that the division welcomes and serves all students, and her pride and honor in leading a “diverse community of learners, representing any and all abilities, languages, backgrounds, and cultures.”

Herron reiterated that feeling in an official statement.

“WJCC Schools is proud to welcome and serve a diverse community of learners, representing all abilities, languages, backgrounds, and cultures. Goals 1 and 2 of our Strategic Plan work hand-in-hand to ensure all learners are engaged in an inclusive, respectful learning environment that prepares all students for post-secondary success,” Herron said.

That sentiment was echoed by School Board Chair Sarah G. Ortego.

“WJCC schools proudly welcomes students of all backgrounds, cultures, countries, and abilities. Our teachers and staff work tirelessly to accommodate the needs of non-English speaking students and to integrate them into their classes,” Ortego said. “The WJCC school board fully supports and is committed to providing a high-quality education to every child enrolled in our schools will continue to do its part to ensure a safe and welcoming learning environment for all.”

The next school board regular session will be on April 16 at 6:30 p.m. and the next work session will be on April 9 at 4:30 p.m. 

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