Fremont Elementary School in Antioch has hit some bumps in the road while attempting to implement a dual immersion (DI) program with 32 of its younger students.

According to a brochure distributed by the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD), the DI program “builds student bilingualism and bi-literacy in English and Spanish.” However, more than one parent is crying foul.

“The problem that concerns me is that it’s second grade, and (my daughter) is not reading or writing in either language,” said Elimisha Fussell, whose four children have attended Fremont. “Which is kind of scary, because normally in second grade, kids are reading and writing.”

Fussell said the program was pushed on her youngest daughter when she began kindergarten in 2017, the year DI was implemented at Fremont. When Fussell attempted to place her in a non-DI class, the school informed her there was no room, and she would have to try another campus. Fussell backed off and placed her faith in the process, as she was repeatedly told to do.

Dual immersion begins in kindergarten, when students are taught in 90% Spanish and 10% English. Then, in first grade, they’re taught 80% in Spanish and 20% in English. The process continues until they reach fifth grade, when they’re taught half in Spanish and half in English. This is not a program designed for children from Spanish-speaking homes to learn English, but for any child to learn two languages at the same time. However, according to Fussell, her daughter’s entire second grade class cannot read or write in Spanish or English.

“The teachers there are really concerned, and it’s up in the air what happens here,” said Fussell. “We have a classroom full of kids who are not reading or writing in either language, and it’s quite scary.”

AUSD Superintendent Stephanie Anello refuted Fussell’s claims, saying it was “false and inaccurate” that an entire class couldn’t read or write.

“Unfortunately, we are aware of a parent who volunteers in the classroom — who is not an educator, who seems to have made this conclusion absent of any norm-referenced or benchmarked assessment,” Anello wrote in an email to The Press.

After Fussell began making her complaints to the school and district in early August, administrators began taking notice. Near the end of September, reading intervention groups were implemented for 40 minutes, twice a week in the class. Fussell felt it was too little, too late, leading her to pull her daughter, as well as her older children, from Fremont and place them in a different school.

While she said she’s pleased with her daughter’s elementary grasp of Spanish, Fussell is highly concerned with her inability to read or write, and with the evident lack of resources available to teachers and students at Fremont Elementary. She’s now reaching into her pocket for tutoring for her daughter.

Fussell isn’t the only parent who spoke out. Several parents wrote letters to the school, including Tameka Peters. Peters chastised administrators for failing to teach an entire class to read and write, and then failing to provide adequate intervention.

“To get any of these students to the proper reading level to become self-sufficient in any language, they need more,” Peters wrote. “What in God’s name were you thinking, and who are you being led by? This school and district have really deprived our children of effective education ...”

Jason Larson ran Fremont’s DI program until this year, when he was promoted to director of educational services for AUSD. He neither confirmed nor denied claims the class could not read or write. Instead, he focused on the district’s goals with DI.

“We are proud of the work that has been completed to date for our students’ experience in Dual Immersion,” Larson wrote in an email to The Press. “As with any new program, we have had growing pains and areas in need of additional support. As we enter our third year, we continue to be a work in progress and pride ourselves on employing the use of the teach-reflect-apply philosophy to continue to refine and add value to our efforts and programming.”

Fremont’s principal, Heather Ogden, did not return requests for comment. Another school in the district, John Muir Elementary, also implemented DI in kindergarten in 2017. Administrators there did not return requests for comment on their program before press time. There is no similar program in the Brentwood, Oakley, Knightsen or Byron districts.

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