Since more than 1,000 people signed petitions opposing the program (while 900 signed petitions supporting it), a portion of the school community is far from happy with the outcome.
The division between the pro- and anti-Mandarin camps could spill over into the November school board election, with three seats up.
More ominously, there could be lingering resentment next year when the school district goes to the voters for approval of a bond measure. Some people unhappy with the board's vote on Mandarin immersion have posted on Palo Alto Online's Town Square forum that they wouldn't support a bond measure.
Much of the anger seems directed at the school board for changing its vote from January, when it voted 3-2 to reject the program, to this month's 4-1 vote for it. As several people noted, the only difference between January and June was when the threat of starting a charter school for Mandarin immersion became more evident.
Grace Mah, who has championed Mandarin immersion for the last five years, said the board knew of her interest in starting a charter school if the effort to get the district to start a Mandarin program failed.
"I had already been talking about charter schools before the January vote," Mah said.
"Some people are concerned about equity," Mah said. "They feel a program shouldn't be started for 40 kids." Others were against "choice" programs in general, which are offered only to some students. Some are against any language-immersion program and others were against Mandarin immersion specifically, Mah said, noting that people had different reasons for their opposition.
"And some feel a precedent has been set," she added.
The debate over Mandarin immersion was so heated because both sides were organized, school board member Barb Mitchell thinks. "You get more rhetoric and hyperbole" when there are organized groups opposing each other, she said.
School board member Gail Price, the lone vote against the program, was consistent in her opposition.
"This becomes a question of how we use our resources most effectively," she said. "Some people see this as a watershed of how we make decisions. All the brouhaha about this does not exactly speak of confidence in the district."
The debate was bruising for the participants.
"I think Grace Mah feels beaten up and dragged over the coals, but I feel beaten up and dragged over the coals, too," Price said.
There was also an indirect allegation that some opponents were racist.
Mah said she felt racial overtones during the debate.
"The racism issues that were raised were a distraction to the real, core issues," board member Dana Tom said.
But even mentioning race was intimidating. "Some people are terrified of being accused of being racist," Price said. "It changes the terms of the debate."
There were strong words during the debate, with much of the venting occurring in e-mails and on Town Square. It may be difficult to heal those wounds in the near future.
People from both sides made comments about getting past the debate and working together, with an indication that some people might reach out to each other.
That hasn't happened yet.
"There's going to have to be a lot of work and a lot of reconnecting" to pass a bond measure next year, Price said. "What will be critical is how the board members position themselves."
Meanwhile, the anger in the Mandarin debate has caught the attention of others.
The city's Human Relations Commission, in the next few months, will discuss why public policy debates become so brutal.
"We've been noticing that civic discourse is not so civil," commission Chair Shauna Wilson said.
The anger shows a lack of respect for honest differences.
This story contains 654 words.
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