By Rebecca Anshell Song
The article, “Parents accuse Bellevue School District of favoring rich kids in school closures” provided only one perspective on the recent school consolidations in Bellevue. It suggested that BSD was favoring rich families by closing two schools and moving choice schools onto their campuses. It did not include any input or fact-checking from Jing Mei Elementary staff, students, or families. I am a Jing Mei parent and I want to respond to some of the issues he raised.
Jing Mei and Big Picture needed new facilities
First and foremost, readers should know that prior to this school year, Jing Mei and Big Picture were housed in two of the three oldest campuses within Bellevue School District. The third old campus is occupied by another choice school, International School. This wasn’t mentioned at all in the article.
Jing Mei’s campus was constructed in 1965. Big Picture was built in 1960. Despite having had minor renovations, neither of those 60-year-old campuses were up to the modern standards for safety and security of students. Both schools had an open corridor plan with countless different entrances and exits, which made it nearly impossible to know who was on the campus at any given time. Especially because of the uptick in school shootings, this made many families very nervous.
There was a recognition by Bellevue School District that the three schools remaining in old buildings posed a safety and security hazard and cost the district a lot of money in upkeep. Every other school in the district has been rebuilt in the last 20 years or so. After BSD consolidated two elementary schools due to declining enrollment, they made the decision to move two of the choice schools into those buildings. That was done in lieu of rebuilding those campuses and incurring massive construction costs.
The article also claimed that additional funds would be used to upgrade the Wilburton campus for the incoming Jing Mei families. The school district has clearly and publicly stated that this is false. The only money spent on updating the campus was to change the signs.
There are absolutely equity questions that should be addressed regarding choice schools. School programs that require parents to opt in and travel often have more students with higher incomes and more advantaged backgrounds. I would be happy to have a district wide discussion about how to make these programs more equitable, including the option of housing dual language programs in multiple schools instead of just one. I know that I am not the only parent at Jing Mei who feels this way.
In fact, I would prefer to see every school offer a dual language option. Learning a second language is extraordinarily beneficial to students. Not only is it a better path to English proficiency for students learning English as a second language, it allows students with families from other countries to better learn and understand their own relatives and culture.
A 2019 meta-analysis of research on foreign language learning found that bilingualism supports cognitive flexibility, employment success, academic achievement, cultural competence, and enhanced creativity. These are skills that all our students deserve to have access to. Unfortunately, the former parents from Wilburton Elementary that are attacking Jing Mei are more interested in attacking the language programs our district offers than improving them.
Bellevue’s demographics have been changing for the last couple of decades. Our city is now majority non-white, with many immigrants from different parts of the world making up a huge portion of the population. Anyone who lives here and pays attention will tell you that this has also led to tension and backlash from some white residents who wish the city would “go back to what it used to be.”
While I would never assume that all parents involved in this effort are racist, they are choosing to scapegoat a Chinese school and blame our community for decisions made by district leaders. We have multiple dual language programs and choice schools in the district, but Jing Mei is the only school being singled out.
As a result, several public discussions of this issue have opened the door to racist comments, ranging from “those people should try to assimilate instead of segregating themselves” to “if the Jing Mei parents get angry, they are untouchable.” These comments reflect antagonism to the Chinese community in Bellevue. Some community members have opposed the whole idea of dual language programs, saying that students in the U.S. should only learn English.
The article did not help respond to any of this racism. In fact, the assertion that only two languages are spoken at Jing Mei is not only horribly inaccurate, it is harmful. There are at least a dozen different languages spoken at home by Jing Mei families and suggesting that the school only consists of Mandarin-speaking Chinese families both portrays our school as homogenous and marginalizes our families from other parts of the world.
The parents attacking Jing Mei need to rethink the way their rhetoric is fanning the flames of racism. If they truly want to start a district-wide discussion about equity in our choice programs, it should start by involving us, not attacking us.