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Arlington Public Schools’ German Language Program Struggles to Stay Afloat

Parents and students are once more rallying behind the German language program at Arlington Public Schools, the future of which is unclear.

When students returned to school on Monday, Aug. 30, those enrolled in German 2 and 3 found out they had no in-person teacher. They instead received links to virtual German classes taught by Fuel Ed and Oklahoma State University, respectively, while German I students were told to choose another language, as virtual education would not be conducive for beginning instruction.

Germanophiles are worried about the program’s existence now and in the long term. For some, it feels like déjà vu, as the community rallied around German and Japanese a few years ago when enrollment was low and APS was considering the future of these programs.

“APS is cutting programs, pushing things online, and making it harder to learn language, when they should be starting early, making it fun and making it so they are actually learning something,” said Suzette Lohmeyer, whose son is enrolled in German 3, and would’ve been bussed to the Arlington Career Center this year for German before his class went online.

Two weeks after school started, the school system tells ARLnow it now has a temporary teacher for German I until a permanent replacement is found. APS added that it remains committed “to providing strong in-person linguistic support” to German 2 and 3 students.

“Our current German teacher has agreed to stay and teach German synchronously (she will be virtual while the students will be at the Career Center with a classroom monitor) until a permanent replacement is found,” spokesman Frank Bellavia said. “Schools will begin modifying student-schedules so that they can begin German 1 by next week. We will continue with our search, but this news gives us time to make sure that we hire a highly qualified German teacher.”

This teacher had resigned before the start of the school year, and APS attributed the problems to the timing of her announcement.

“The timing of the departure of our German 1 teacher has presented some scheduling and recruitment challenges but we are committed to finding a solution,” Bellavia said.

Low enrollment has threatened German in the past. It has the fewest students enrolled of the world languages offered, according to APS data. While Japanese was also on the chopping block a few years ago, enrollment has since increased, resulting in a second teacher getting hired for this fall. German, meanwhile, hovered between 43 and 56 students between 2015 and 2020. This spring, 35 students listed German as their preferred course for the fall, according to APS.

Regardless of enrollment, Lohmeyer and Judith Davis, whose children are studying German and whose families are dual U.S.-German citizens, say the program should stay because one of Arlington’s sister cities is in Germany.

Further, the parents say that the now-returned teacher has been thrown under the proverbial bus. They have built a coalition of other families frustrated by situation, as well as other current and former students and parents, and are pushing for more information, greater transparency and stopgap solutions.

“We have a values gap at the moment,” Davis said. “This is not just a bunch of parents trying to cause trouble: We’re just saying ‘This is not acceptable.'”

Davis said she has been frustrated with the explanations coming from administration because they don’t track with her experience and those of others. The school system has said it is actively looking for a new teacher and has fully operational virtual options for German 2 and 3, but according to Davis her daughter and other students report that virtual class is a “blank screen.”

Superintendent Francisco Durán responded to the disconnect during the School Board meeting Thursday.

“I want to acknowledge and recognize that you’ve been given inconsistent information about this and what we’re doing to retain this offering for our students,” he said.

During the same meeting, Berdy Davis, Judith’s son and a freshman at Wakefield High School, told the School Board he was looking forward to taking German because it will open doors for him to study there after high school.

“I was shocked to hear a week before school started that they’ll be cutting it, and I’ll have to take a different language in a different class,” he said. “German should get the same respect as al the other languages, like Spanish, Chinese and French. We shouldn’t cut the class and have kids teaching themselves.”

Aidan, Lohmeyer’s son, said he missed most of baseball practice for the meeting and hopes APS will provide an in-person teacher.

“One of the biggest things I was looking forward to this year was being in my German class, being able to talk to other students and the teacher, and learning all those things you don’t get to learn when you’re sitting in front of a computer,” he said. “Now I’m still waiting to start an online language course through Oklahoma [State] University, once again sitting in front of a screen, probably spacing out.”

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