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Critics Protest Opening of Houston Arabic Immersion Elementary School

Protesters showed up to voice their displeasure with Houston's new Arabic-language immersion elementary school on Monday, the first day of classes.

The Houston Chronicle reports that "almost 30 adults spread among the fenced perimeter ... waving American and Israeli flags" and said the school was "anti-American" and that "immigrants should be 'assimilated.'"

The newspaper reports that the school opened today to about 130 kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students. Teachers at the school split instruction time evenly between Arabic and English.

Arabic is the second-most common foreign language spoken at home in the Houston school district, and the metropolitan region has seen its Arabic-speaking population spike in recent years. The school board unanimously approved the plan in November with little public fanfare.

Superintendent Terry Grier told Education Week last fall that opening the school was part of his push to graduate more bilingual students. The district opened a Mandarin Chinese immersion school in 2012.

Houston television station KPRC reports that counter-protesters also came to the school Monday morning to show support for the program. Grier told the station that the magnet school draws students from 40 different ZIP codes.

Principal Kate Adams told the Houston Chronicle that the vast majority of the student body is made up of black, Latino, and white students.

Arabic classes have failed to become a common offering in U.S. public schools despite a 2006 initiative by former President George W. Bush to increase the number of U.S. citizens learning, speaking, and teaching Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi, and other languages considered critical for national security reasons. The effort aimed to expand instruction in the languages with grants to K-12 districts and programs.

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