January 16, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Dearborn schools to remain bilingual

District reassures staff, community that hybrid Arabic-English classes will continue, despite report.

DEARBORN -- Stung by a report recommending that English only be used at one of the district's most heavily Arab high schools, administrators fielded phone calls all day Thursday from community members worried about a ban.

Superintendent Brian Whiston tried to reassure teachers by staff e-mail Thursday that the use of Arabic would not be discontinued, said district spokesman David Mustonen, a day after The Detroit News reported on the study by the Michigan Leadership Institute that said bilingual programs slow assimilation of students into the district's three high schools and "American society in general."

In a response to the study on the district's Web site, staff will be reminded to only use languages other than English only when needed for effective education.

"Lots of people are talking about it, concerned about the district even trying to entertain such a recommendation," said Imad Hamad, regional director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Principals and administrators said the school district will accommodate all students by continuing to offer hybrid Arabic-English classes at all schools and in all subjects, while administrators and principals investigate ways to move students into mainstream programs over the next 18 months.

"There will still be native languages to help kids learn, but the goal is to teach them English," Mustonen said Thursday. "We are not banning any languages. We are not stopping what we are doing."

Though the language divide is a problem at all three high schools in the district, the report singled out Fordson High School, which has the highest number of Arab students in the district. The report urged prohibiting all languages except English unless necessary.

"To do otherwise reinforces a perception by some that Fordson is an Arab school in America rather than an American school with Arab students," the report stated.

Some Arab community members said a move to ban Arabic would be justified if the reasons were free of politics and purely education-based.

"If it helps the learning process, especially with those high school kids who have deficiencies in English skills, I have no problem with that," said Adnan Beydoun, whose son graduated from Fordson last year. "If it is politically motivated or racially motivated, of course I am against that."

The 44-page report by the Michigan Leadership Institute, a consultancy group in the Grand Traverse area, also addressed high school overcrowding, test scores and No Child Left Behind compliance.

You can reach Tanveer Ali at (734) 462-2094 or tali@detnews.com">tali@detnews.com.