NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Recently released data from the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools shows about a third of the district’s 85,000 student population does not speak English as a first language.

Of those 25,300 students, more than 12,300 require special services, primarily in elementary schools, The Tennessean reports.

The majority of Nashville students learning English speak Spanish at home, and Arabic speakers comprise the second largest group.

According to statistics provided to the Tennessean by the district, a total of 120 different languages are spoken in Metro schools, with the most popular being Spanish, Arabic, Kurdish, Somali, Vietnamese, Burmese, Napali, Amharic, Chinese and Karen.

Spanish speaking students are by far the largest group with 16,896 students, while Arabic and Kurdish round out the top three at 3,435 and 1,181, respectively.

Data shows the number of Metro students requiring special services to learn English has been on the rise, from 8,751 in the 2011-12 school year to 12,329 in 2015-16.

The highest concentration of Arabic students is found at Antioch High School, where about 264 students speak the language.

The situation, for some reason, prompted district officials to launch a new Arabic language program last year, and they apparently targeted Antioch and several other schools with high Arabic student populations to pilot the program.

“The schools – Antioch High School, Margaret Allen Middle Prep, Cane Ridge High School, Antioch Middle Prep, Overton High School and McMurray Middle Prep – were selected based on a survey of students’ home languages,” Chalkbeat reported this spring.

“Because all of the schools have several Arabic-speaking students – in some cases, hundreds – two different courses will be offered: beginning Arabic and heritage Arabic, for native speakers to deepen their knowledge of the language and learn to read and write in Arabic,” according to the site.

District officials touted the program as a way for students to “stay connected to their native culture” in a press release this past May.

“Native Arabic speakers have this innate skill they can take into adulthood. We want them to develop it further and use it to also strengthen their English skills,” said Metro Nashville’s chief academic officer, Jay Steele.

But not everyone thinks the new program is a good idea, or that school officials are implementing the Arabic language lessons for the right reasons.

VDare blogger Allan Wall believes “schools shouldn’t be pressured to teach a language because a lot of people in that area are speaking that language. Immigrants need to learn English.”

He took particular issue with the “Heritage Arabic classes” for students with “Arabic-speaking backgrounds.”

“Why do they need the classes?” he questioned. “To reinforce their otherness? Will these classes encourage assimilation?

“It’s not the job of our public schools to ‘help them stay connected to their native culture,’” he wrote. “In some cases, such ‘connections’ are only going to cause more problems.”

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