The EBR School Board approved the establishment of Baton Rouge Foreign Language Immersion Magnet (BRFLAIM) Upper at Polk Elementary for Pre-K and grades 3-5 for the 2016-17 school year. After numerous parents and faculty took the podium during the meeting to voice concerns for “traditional students” at Polk Elementary, the Board voted 8-0 in favor of the proposal. Traditional students are those that attended Polk Elementary before the 2014 implementation of the BRFLAIM program or those that are in the attendance zone. BRFLAIM is a language immersion Magnet program, which has expanded in such a way that students need to be split between Primary and Upper locations. Polk Elementary has been below the 250-student threshold needed to financially maintain the school since 2008, according to Deputy Superintendent Dr. Michelle Clayton.
“It seems that it makes sense… so that each school gets what it needs,” explained board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson. BRFLAIM saved Polk Elementary from being taken over by the state, according to Ware-Jackson. A petition signed by 30 opposing parents was read aloud by Daphne Batiste, who has a grandson that attends Polk Elementary. Parents such as VickiDosan urged board members to, “consider these precious children,” referring to Polk Elementary’s “traditional” students. Parents in support of Polk Elementary argued that the attendance zoning and inability for the school to accept new students has crippled the school. However, only 124 students would attend Polk Elementary if traditional school zones were restored, Clayton said. Monicke Baker, who works in the office at Polk Elementary, said she turns parents away each day and feels that Clayton’s estimate is too low.
Parental support for BRFLAIM was just as strong as parental support for Polk Elementary. Christina Bradford, a mother of a BRFLAIM student, expressed her gratitude for the program because her husband’s first language is Spanish and hers is English, and through BRFLAIM her son is able to communicate with both of his parents in their first language.
Other parents were on the fence about the proposal, such as Jillian Ray. Ray explained that her family moved to Lafayette where her son attended another language immersion school. The family moved back within months because of FLAIM and the people at Polk Elementary, Ray said.
The Polk Elementary campus is currently underutilized and both enrollment and leap scores were declining before the FLAIM program was implemented, according to Clayton. Current Polk Elementary students will stay through matriculation and by 2020 all traditional students will be gone, Clayton said. BRFLAIM enrollment is expected to grow to more than 600 students with the utilization of Polk Elementary’s campus. The plan is to go into effect in August of 2016.