Letters to the Editor
Publication Date: Wednesday Dec 14, 1994

Letters to the Editor

Article fueled hysteria

Editor,

I was profoundly disappointed in the article (Weekly, Dec. 7) about the former Palo Alto Unified School District employee who is alleged to have molested children in Palo Alto. Because these two children are my daughters, I was aghast that no one bothered to call me to discuss the case. I was told by a secondhand source last week that "something might come up in the papers."

What is so disturbing to me is that if I were a parent reading the article who didn't know this man or know the case as I do, I would think this man is a pedophile and would be worried my child might encounter him on the campus of one of the elementary schools here in Palo Alto. This kind of article, because it was so one-sided, is the very fuel used to inflame a hysteria that is both wasteful, devastating and unnecessary to the whole community.

The allegations weren't made by me or my children or family. I suspect the person who made the allegations was assuming he or she was doing a service to this community. The allegations began because of a comment my daughter made to another child that was taken out of context and reported to an adult. Rumors began, suspicions were aroused, an anonymous phone call was made, an investigation occurred, and now this man's life professionally and personally is in shambles.

Even if the allegations are unfounded, the damage has been done. This is the worst case of "zeal without knowledge" I have seen in my adult life. It is sad and ironic that the person who began this rumor has ended up devastating the very group she had been trying to help and protect: the children of Palo Alto.

Editor's note: The Weekly is witholding the identity of the letter-writer in keeping with our policy of not identifying children who are victims of alleged crimes.

Kafkaesque nightmare

Editor,

We are deeply concerned about the reporting done on Tupou (David Schwenke), who was accused of child molesting. A few paragraphs like that, sent to every home in our community, will pretty much finish off Tupou's life as he knew it in Palo Alto, let alone the damage to his spirit if he is innocent.

We do not know what Tupou has done or not done. But we have seen him quite often in his role as nanny; kids seemed to trust him very much. We are aware that no child has said that Tupou touched her or his genitals, and that the family which had employed him worked hard for his prison release. These aspects were not covered in the story, and yet there are few instances where the words in the Weekly will have as profound an effect on someone's future as in a story of child molestation accusations.

No child should ever have to endure a sexual predator and no parent should be expected to sit passively should they discover their child was molested. But no way do we want to participate in the destruction of an innocent man's life, no matter how paranoid we feel about the level of molestation that has been revealed in recent years.

We would hope that before putting pen to paper, the reporters of such stories would forget about deadlines and dig as deeply as necessary into the facts of the case and the backgrounds of all the players. If, somehow we ever learn that Tupou is innocent, then we as a community will have a great responsibility to help him heal from a Kafkaesque nightmare.

Elliot Margolies
Ann Niehaus
Laura Lockwood
Emerson Street
Palo Alto

Languages unaffordable

Editor,

As a parent, I was very disconcerted by your article (Weekly, Dec. 2) on Palo Alto's school budget deficit woes: "Already chipping away at a $2 million budget shortfall, the Palo Alto school district may be faced with close to $1 million more in cuts . . ."

Imagine my surprise when I read (Weekly, Nov. 30) that my child "may be learning subjects like geography, social studies and literature--in French, German or Spanish" because a group called "United Supporters of Early Foreign Language (USEFL)" is pushing for an "immersion program" in foreign languages--i.e., an alternative curriculum reorganized so that 50 to 100 percent of the elementary school child's day is taught in a foreign language. Imagine my further surprise when I read that USEFL has come to this view in part by embarking on visits to "classrooms throughout the United States and Canada!"

I tried to organize my thoughts about these two articles by compiling "Top 10 Pro and Con" lists. Against the idea of a foreign language alternative "immersion" program:

1. We don't have the extra money.

2. We not only don't have extra money, we're short on money and have to cut back on programs that are underfunded to begin with!

3. It is fatuous to think that reorganizing an entire curriculum at two schools to start such a program is anything but a large expenditure of resources, not only in "cash" but in staff time, which amounts to cash.

4. Too many parents will be injured in fistfights over which language(s) will be offered.

5. Palo Alto has a large percentage of residents who do not have school-age children, and it is hard enough to convince them to support a tax increase to bail out our schools without choosing this time to push a new, expensive program. Such taxpayers will be only more skeptical of our budget woes if they suspect that even a dime of taxpayer money went toward financing those USEFL junkets to classrooms "throughout the United States and Canada."

6. Because of decreasing tax revenue, "the district must find ways to cut its general fund budget in order to support a growing number of students, . . . teachers and staff." Gee, we really don't have the money!

7. I'd rather see some parents pay privately for the luxury of giving their kids an earlier introduction to foreign languages than see parents pay for tutors to make up for deficiencies in other areas created by the shift in resources you describe.

8. With regard to the comparison made to the early teaching of foreign languages in other countries: There are practical reasons, mostly geographical, why more foreign language training is a necessity in Europe. There are equally practical geographic and economic reasons why it is a luxury, not a necessity, in the United States.

9. "To fit a foreign language program into a school day, most (elementary) schools would have to eliminate something else." We start off with a shorter school year than many countries, we already graduate kids from high school who can't write coherently in English, and we want to cut back on an already hard-pressed curriculum to substitute foreign languages? Please!

10. USEFL is simply too cute an acronym for its creators to be taken seriously.

OK, now for the "pro" arguments:

1. Ideal world, unlimited resources? Sure, an alternative language immersion program would be nice to offer. So would a "creative pathway" immersion program in which students spent the entire day learning about the world via the arts, or a "science immersion" program.

2. Junior can translate on your next vacation.

3. You won't have to wait five years to hand down your high-schooler's foreign language books.

4-10? Can't think of any more.

Arthur Liu
Mackay Drive
Palo Alto

Immersion is cheaper

Editor,

Thank you for your article (Weekly, Nov. 30) on the future of foreign language instruction in the PAUSD. We wish to re-emphasize a few key points of our report to the School Board regarding FLES (foreign language taught in English as a subject), immersion (regular curriculum taught in the foreign language) and our specific recommendations:

Anecdotal evidence notwithstanding, research has clearly shown that FLES instruction of less than 30 minutes per day, five days per week, is not effective in promoting high levels of foreign language acquisition. Daily instruction for 30 minutes is not a target or ideal; it is a minimum.

The district can fund FLES for 30 minutes per day in half the elementary schools at about the same cost as for 15 minutes per day districtwide, and with less driving time for staff.

Immersion is far less expensive than FLES, and it is significantly more effective in fostering high levels of foreign language achievement. The combination of "better" and "cheaper" can hardly be overemphasized, especially in light of the district's current financial situation.

In addition, because immersion teaches the regular curriculum in the foreign language, it is the only program which requires no "extra" time in the school day.

Nevertheless, there are two factors which strongly suggest that implementation of an immersion program throughout the district in the immediate future would be unwise:

Until parents are convinced that immersion will actually foster higher levels of achievement in other elements of the curriculum, including English lanquage arts, many will fear the opposite and will not want their child enrolled in such a program.

In addition, acquisition and training of fully qualified teachers, who are native or native-like speakers of the foreign language, is critical to the success of the program. We must pursue this process with great care and deliberation.

The consistent pattern throughout the United States shows that, once the advantages of immersion are widely recognized, parent demand routinely exceeds supply.

We believe that a maximum of four high-quality programs, including one or two FLES programs (minimum 30 minutes per day, five days per week) and one or two immersion programs is the appropriate first step. The success of these "root" programs will ensure that K-12 foreign language instruction in Palo Alto will flourish over the long term.

We believe it would be a mistake to limit languages arbitrarily. Elementary language choices, among the four currently taught at our middle schools (Spanish, French, German and Japanese), should reflect demand.

If the district is to have an intensive elementary foreign language instruction program of any type in place by the September 1995, the planning and staffing of such a program must begin very soon.

Copies of our report are available in the district office at 25 Churchill Ave. Comments or questions regarding the report or its recommendations should be directed to one of us or another member of the USEFL Task Force.

Kenji Hakuta
Kathryn Lindholm
Steven Popell
Co-chairs, United Supporters of Early Foreign Language
Amherst Court
Los Altos Hills

Don't tie their hands

Editor,

I'm reluctant to haul out the old typewriter so soon after the Menlo Park City Council election, but I just can't let the Palo Alto Weekly editorial of Nov. 30 stand uncontested.

The editor says that the issue of a Willow Expressway connecting 280 with Bayshore is dead. He or she is quite right. Whether this is a good or bad thing is beside the point. The Stanford Park Hotel permanently blocks the original path, and it would now be geographically impossible to have a Willow Expressway.

However, I don't see why the Palo Alto Weekly editor goes on to say that it is now necessary to give up the right for all time to increase Willow Road, between Gilbert Avenue and Bayshore, to more than the present two lanes. Since we all agree that the Willow Expressway is dead, then forever limiting the width of Willow Road to two lanes is both unnecessary and shortsighted.

Who knows what will be needed to move traffic in 21st-century Menlo Park? Years ago, our city fathers laid out a street plan providing for no through cross streets on downtown Santa Cruz Avenue. Traffic flow in that area has been a headache ever since. Similarly, future generations could be cursing us for giving up the option to widen Willow Road for no real reason other than to pacify a few people now.

Many years hence, Menlo Park may want to connect Willow Road to El Camino with a railroad underpass, but this would create no "four-lane Frankenstein." They already have a similar four-lane east-west traffic artery in Palo Alto called Embarcadero Road. This tree-lined road moves cars quietly and smoothly through one of the more beautiful areas of that city. Furthermore, I don't see adjacent neighborhoods suffering any loss in property values . . . nor do I see any gridlock on El Camino in Palo Alto.

I would urge the Menlo Park Planning Commission and the City Council not to tie the hands of the next generation by acceding to the wishes of Gail Slocum and the Palo Alto Weekly.

Reginald W. Rice
Tioga Drive
Menlo Park

Try a budget swap

Editor,

I think I have discovered a simple solution to two topical problems currently being debated in the pages of the Weekly.

The first problem has to do with the United States Geological Survey and its $521 million annual budget (Weekly, Nov. 30). I agree with Ohio Republican John Kasich that the USGS is a luxury the taxpayers cannot afford. Let's let private industry take care of our map making needs and get our government out of the earthquake prediction business.

The second problem is that certain members of the community weren't entirely thrilled with the Stanford Savoyards' production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance" (Weekly, Nov. 18), while defenders of the performance maintain that this is a largely volunteer effort with a minimal budget (Letters, Nov. 30).

Why not swap these two monitary fiscal budgets for one year and see what the outcome would be? Would the USGS be any more productive or accurate in its efforts to study earthquakes if it were manned exclusively by volunteers? Would the Savoyards be able to mount a more impressive production of their upcoming Gilbert and Sullivan operetta "The Yeoman of the Guard" if they had about $521 million to spend on costumes and sets? Above all, would the American taxpayer be getting more bang for his buck if we swapped a bunch of complacent geologists conducting ridiculous experiments for a bunch of hard-working musicians conducting a first-rate concert?

Art Sirota
Laurel Street
Menlo Park

Credit for the cellar

Editor,

On the front page of your Home & Real Estate section (Weekly, Nov. 4) you featured some fabulous photographs of a custom wine cellar designed, manufactured and assembled by Fine Wine Rack & Cellar Company in the featured home in Los Altos Hills. At the end of this informative article you highlight two companies that sell cellars, which appears to give them credit for production.

Please give credit where credit is due! Our founder, Paul Wyatt, was the exclusive designer of this custom wine storage and display system.

Robyn E. Plemmons
Executive assistant, Fine Wine Rack & Cellar Company
Industrial Road
San Carlos


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