HOUSTON (FOX 26) - The Houston Independent School District breaks new ground today opening the first Arabic Immersion Magnet School in the country. But the first day started out with protests.
“No Arabic should be taught to kids in school,” one protester could be heard saying in a video at StoptheMagnet.com, as parents brought their children in to school.
“Instead of emphasizing unity through English immersion studies, HISD has opted to create a special school for a group that rejects assimilation into the American way,” Stop the Magnet says in a statement released on its web site Monday.
Protestors did not return as school was letting out, but some parents were still shaken up by what happened in the morning.
“She's only 4, and when she came in this morning they were yelling at her to get out of America and go English first,” said Mica Arizmendez, “But she's a 7th generation Mexican American and we've had 7 service members in our family. They fought for them to be able to come and give their rude comments to a 4 year old.”
Arizmendez says her daughter thought the group was there to cheer her on, and she didn’t try to dissuade her of that idea. Her daughter was going to school for the first time in her life. She was among 132 students enrolled at the school in Pre-K and Kindergarten.
We're in Texas with the oil and gas industry,” Arizmendez said. “It’s going to be very marketable for her to have 3 languages speak Spanish, English and hopefully she'll catch on to the Arabic.
Another parent speaking out against the protestors was a man who said he served in the military as a combat advisor to Iraqi troops.
“I think they mean well, but they don't have the right idea,” said the father of a student who did not want his identity revealed. “After 9/11 one of our biggest shortcomings was the lack of American Arabic speakers and I think it's strategically vital for this country, particularly given the enemy that we have.”
Principal Kate Adams says the protests were “unfortunate,” but that there are many misconceptions about the school. It’s like any other HISD elementary school, she says. Eventually it will have students through 5th grade as the student progress through the grades.
“We are still teaching our students the same thing as our other HISD schools: the same math science, and social studies,” Adams says. “The only difference is they learn math and science in Arabic and Social Studies in English.”
When asked if the school taught any Islamic culture, Adams said, “No. We are a public HISD school."
The father who did not want to be identified said the protesters don’t understand the school is not about teaching Islamic studies.
“If they'd been inside the school, the first thing we did was say the pledge of allegiance in English,” he said.
Arizmendez said some people may have the wrong idea about the school’s purpose.
“They think we're here to teach the Koran or something,” Arizmendez said. “But, you, know she's a Christian. The religious part is on me, as a mother.”