Rhinebeck expands Spanish classes for waiting students

Mother's questioning of district lottery system led to change

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A Rhinebeck mother’s query about the use of a lottery system for middle-school foreign language classes has led to expanded Spanish classes this year.

Toni Cincotta, the mother of a student put on a waiting list for Spanish, questioned the school board at its Aug. 27 meeting about the system, suggesting it hampers those students who don’t get their language choice.

They “are forced to accept a lottery chance law that could potentially impact them through the rest of their high school career,” she told the educators.

“They may have a disadvantage by comparison to their classmates who won the lottery. Those who win the lottery are allowed to master those base foundations… while the losers of the lottery must wait two years before they could potentially take Spanish in high school,” she added.

Under the lottery system, students fill out a form for their first-choice foreign language at the end of 6th grade. Then a lottery is used to select students at random for the available spots. Cincotta’s son, put on the Spanish waiting list, was assigned to a French class instead, she said.

Superintendent Joe Phelan said at the meeting that there were 45 students enrolled in the two seventh-grade Spanish classes this year, while another 13 students are on a waiting list.

Last week, as school was about to start, Phelan told The Observer that nine of the 13 students on the waiting list had been moved into the two Spanish classes, which now have 27 students in each. The other four students wanted to remain in French classes, he added.

He had noted at the board meeting that foreign language classes rotate with computer classes every other day. The computer room has 28 stations, which limits foreign language classes to the same number of students.

Phelan said this problem had occurred twice in the last nine years, and in the past, foreign language classes were given on a first-come, first-serve basis. That led to students lining up at the guidance office at 6:30am, which is why the district changed to the lottery system in recent years.

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