Howell school district will phase out French as World Language option

HOWELL – The Howell K-8 School District will phase out French from its World Language program.

Bruce Preston, Howell’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and personnel, told Board of Education members on Aug. 26 that a French teacher has resigned from her position in the two middle schools.

“That leaves us in a position where we have to find and replace the French teacher. World languages in general is a difficult position to fill … and French is among the more difficult language certifications to fill,” Preston said.

He said once administrators learned the French teacher was going to resign, they posted the position and conducted interviews.

“There were two applicants and those applicants did not work out … So we are left with a difficult decision here and I mean that genuinely. This was not an easy decision for us to make,” Preston said.

He said the French teacher’s position continues to be a increasingly difficult position to fill and has been an issue for the seven years he has been in Howell.

“We have been able to hold off this decision, but it seems inevitable. We are the only school district to provide French and as a result of that, Howell High School is the only high school still providing full-time French instruction.

“So where does that leave us? It leaves us in a situation where we have to begin to phase out French as a world language in the middle schools and again I say that with a heavy heart,” Preston said.

Beginning this school year, sixth grade pupils who enter Howell’s middle schools will receive Spanish instruction. Students in the seventh and eighth grades who started with French will receive instruction from a remaining French teacher.

During the 2020-21 school year, only seventh and eighth grade pupils will receive French instruction.

During the 2021-22 school year, only eighth grade pupils will receive French instruction.

Beginning in the 2022-23 school year, French will no longer be offered in Howell’s middle schools.

“We did not come to this decision lightly … It is a difficult position to fill and increasingly so. We are in a position where we either allow students to come into a program and possibly have to remove them partially through that program, or make the difficult decision now to phase out the program, but provide students with a continuous and appropriate experience in another language,” Preston said.

In other business, Preston said he started conversations with groups in the community in regard to the school district’s approach to the Amistad curriculum that will be introduced to students.

The Amistad curriculum comes from the New Jersey Department of Education’s Amistad Commission.

The commission’s goal, according to its website, is to change the landscape for the study of United States and world history by placing Africans and African Americans at the center of the narrative as agents rather than as bystanders or victims who live on the margins of the United States and the world.

The commission’s mandate has shifted from one of inclusion to one of infusion and itsΒ  goals are considered to be revolutionary because they challenge the “either/or” notion that if individuals study African Americans, they have to leave out important events and people in the national narrative, such as people in seats of political and economic power, according to the Amistad Commission.

Preston said the curriculum would offer instruction in black history throughout the school year and not just during February, which is designated as Black History Month.

He said representatives of the school district have had conversations with parents “about where and how, based on their experiences as parents of children of color, they believe we might be able to enhance the curriculum. There is a little bit more work on the horizon and I think everyone would agree this topic is not a one-and-done or a check-a-box kind of conversation.”

Board member Jennifer Okerson provided curriculum updates, including the addition of an LGBTQIA+ curriculum in Howell.

LGBTQIA refers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, intersex and asexual/ally community, and the plus symbol is used to reference other terms for affectional/gendered identities that exist such as pansexual, according to district administrators.

Ally refers to an individual who is straight, but who supports the LGBTQIA community.

According to the Garden State Equality website, Gov. Phil Murphy “signed a law (in 2019) requiring boards of education to include instruction and adopt instructional materials that accurately portray political, economic and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

“This law would require that LGBTQ Americans, as well as Americans with disabilities, are included and recognized for their significant historic contributions to the economic, political and social development of New Jersey and the United States,” according to the website.

The law takes effect at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

“For social studies in kindergarten through eighth grade, all grade levels were represented during the curriculum committee meetings. Based on a specific requirement from the Department of Education, the LGBTQIA+ (instruction) has been embedded and woven into the curriculum,” Okerson said.