MCPS Eliminates Sibling Link for Language Programs

Policy change will be phased in over coming years


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Montgomery County school board members on Friday took a final vote to eliminate the so-called “sibling link” from language immersion program admissions.

The decision stemmed from conversations about increasing diversity after a study showed almost half of the seats in certain elementary immersion programs were occupied by siblings.

After the new policy is phased in, students whose brothers or sisters are enrolled in the programs will no longer have guaranteed seats in the same schools. Instead, siblings would go through the lottery process generally used to award seats, although they would get additional weighting in the selection. 

The removal of the sibling link won’t apply to children with older siblings who are already in the program during the 2017-2018 school year; those students will still bypass the lottery system, according to the policy.

The proposed policy change got some pushback from parents whose children have participated in language immersion and sparked debate during Friday’s board meeting. Board member Rebecca Smondrowski proposed an amendment that would’ve retained the sibling link for at least another year and called for officials to evaluate the impact that stepped-up parent outreach efforts would have on the programs.

She and others have pointed to the advantages of instructing brothers and sisters in these programs because it allows them to practice the language they are learning at home.

“There are key learning factors in having kids enrolled at the same time,” she said.

And while all the board members agreed about the importance of increasing diversity, the sibling link might not be the barrier to doing so, said board member Jeanette Dixon, who supported Smondrowski’s suggestion.

However, the proposed amendment failed by a 3-5 vote.

School board member Patricia O’Neill said because the proposed change eliminates the sibling link gradually, officials already have the opportunity to evaluate whether it’s working and make adjustments if needed.

“The bottom line is [the current system] is not working,” she said.

The overall package of changes to the student transfer policy passed with support from all board members, except Dixon, who abstained.

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