Two adult English as a second language classes offered by the Pleasanton school district began meeting this week at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Pleasanton, getting underway late after the courses had to be relocated from Lydiksen Elementary School following parent concerns.
Adult students convened for the first class Tuesday morning, about a week after the beginning and intermediate level courses were scheduled to start in a Lydiksen classroom on weekday mornings during regular school hours.
The classes are among a series of ESL courses of varying levels being offered this fall, after the district brought back its Pleasanton Adult and Career Education department with state funding restored for such programs.
Registration opened for these classes last month, and space filled up quickly. Nearly 200 students enrolled in seven classes, with over 20 on a wait list, according to Beth Cutter, PUSD's assistant director of adult and career education.
Classes were scheduled for weekday mornings, afternoons and evenings so residents could go at a time that works best for them. They would begin meeting twice a week in late August through December, and the district selected the Pleasanton Library, the Pleasanton Cultural Arts Center and Village High School as class locations in addition to Lydiksen Elementary.
The 60 adults enrolled in the classes at Lydiksen were expected to attend from 9:30 a.m. to noon, with half the group going to class Mondays and Wednesdays and the other half Tuesdays and Thursdays.
In planning for the fall slate of adult education offerings, district administrators discovered Lydiksen offered the only available classroom space district-wide at that time on weekdays, first-year Superintendent Rick Rubino said.
"It was determined this would be a safe and easy location because (the classroom) was right near the main office and the front entry of the school," Rubino said. "There would be no need for ESL students to walk any farther onto campus than right near the main office."
The district has held adult education classes on school campuses in recent years without any known issues, Rubino said.
District officials also planned to require students to go through the same Pleasanton Police Department screening process that the school requires of adult classroom volunteers. That process identifies anyone who has committed crimes against children or is a registered sex offender, Cutter said.
Most, if not all, of the adult students enrolled in these two classes are parents or relatives of Lydiksen students or children from other Pleasanton schools, according to Rubino.
As Aug. 29 approached the first scheduled day of adult education classes at Lydiksen parents got word of the plan and began to raise questions and concerns with the school principal and district officials.
"Initially we had a few concerned parents, and it really did take the form of wanting to get more information about the classes and the process for adults being cleared on campus," Cutter said. "It seems like there was some back channel communication among parents that caused concerns to become heightened. Ultimately, there were numerous parents that expressed concerns."
A petition appeared online in late August asking PUSD to relocate the classes from Lydiksen or change the meeting time to after school. It garnered 127 signatures before the district announced it was moving the courses.
The petition called the screening procedure insufficient and stated that parents were not against adult education classes being offered, but rather where and when these two would be held.
"We need to better protect our students attending Lydiksen Elementary School," an excerpt from the petition reads. "The point of having a closed campus is to protect our students from outside adults entering our school and to prevent a potential safety issue from arising."
District officials were set to meet with Lydiksen parents about this issue on Aug. 25, but the meeting was postponed since a decision was made to move the classes off campus.
Rubino said the district feels strongly about the value of adult education classes, and that moving forward it will hold community meetings and get parent feedback prior to scheduling such courses on school campuses.
"Because we've done these classes before (on other district campuses), there just wasn't a thought that there would be a concern because we were providing this opportunity to parents and family members of PUSD students," Rubino said. "But we did learn from this experience that we really need to do a great educational campaign and give people the opportunity to express their thoughts to us."
Andy Li, a Foothill High School junior, said he hopes the district will consider placing adult education classes on school sites in the future. He wrote Cutter a letter expressing his appreciation that the district is offering such classes, but also his disappointment that two were moved "simply due to 'parental pressure.'"
"It's great that the classes are still happening, but is (moving them) really necessary?" Li said in a phone interview. "These people want to learn like anyone else does. The goal of the public school system is to be inclusive of everyone."