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There have been troubling developments for families in South County that have their children enrolled in the Mandarin Immersion Program (MIP) at Bergeson Elementary school in Laguna Niguel. MIP was founded by a San Clemente parent, and in 2011, when the program was approved by the CUSD Board of Trustees, one of the stipulations was that it be accessible to all CUSD residents and therefore be centrally located. This highly successful program will enter middle school next year, but where will it go? On April 13, the CUSD district staff recommended that the program go to Newhart Middle School in Mission Viejo, which doesn’t provide equal access, is the most northern of our middle schools and doesn’t allow for a feasible drop-off/pickup time between schools for families with multiple children. This will lead to families having to drop out of the program. To the relief of the 88 percent of families in the program that live centrally or south to it, the board voted 5-2 for Niguel Hills Middle School, upholding their promise of equal access. Prior to their vote, keeping a centralized location for the program received public support from Dana Point former Mayor and current City Councilman Carlos Olvera, as well as several other council members, local clubs, businesses and residents from our southern cities.
Fast forward to May 25, and, as reported, “two trustees requested the middle school location to be reconsidered, pointing to about $1 million in renovations in order to house the program at Niguel Hills Middle School.” The argument swayed the board of trustees and the policy was put on hold to be reconsidered in another six months. When CUSD is asking for an $889 million bond measure to repair our neglected schools, spending $1 million to move the Mandarin program sounds wasteful, but it isn’t clear cut for the following reasons:
1. The $1 million estimate is to fix four classrooms, not the two reportedly needed for MIP.
2. Due to declining enrollment at Niguel Hills, the program wouldn’t need the extra classrooms, thus the cost would be $0 for facilities.
3. The whole point of the bond measure is to fix our crumbling classrooms. Due to misinformation about the real costs involved, many of us are wondering if we’ll be able to keep our children in the program if it does end up getting placed in Mission Viejo. The solution is simple; the district needs to uphold its promise of granting equal access to all families and let the decision stand for Niguel Hills Middle School.