Chesterfield chairwoman responds to criticism for comments on immigrants

Chesterfield chairwoman responds to criticism for comments on immigrants
Source: NBC12
Source: NBC12

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - One of Chesterfield's top leaders is facing criticism for comments she made about the growing number of ESOL classes in the county.

Dorothy Jaeckle, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, says her comments were not meant to be discriminatory. Instead, she feels there are significant language barriers in classrooms with a growing number of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students. While it doesn't usually happen, she addressed the issue during the public comment period at Wednesday night's meeting.

Jaeckle was speaking at a budget work session when she made the comments.

"You talk about what attracts people to Chesterfield schools. It's not that they're prejudiced against them, but they want their child to be in a classroom that's more English-speaking," said Jaeckle.

She also referenced the recent nationwide protest "A Day Without Immigrants."

"That day, when the immigrants held their children home, teachers said it was so nice to have a whole class that understood English," said Jaeckle.

People gathered outside of the Chesterfield Schools administration building to rally, speaking out against discrimination. Members of the Chesterfield NAACP also showed up, calling for a public apology and her resignation.

Jaeckle addressed the controversy at Wednesday night's Board of Supervisors meeting.

"Please allows us to have an honest debate without being demonized while having these discussions," said Jaeckle. "This is not an anti-immigrant discussion."

Jaeckle says her words at the budget work session about ESOL classes have been taken out of context.

"It said Mr. Ellsworth and I were against ESOL funding. That's not true at all. We didn't think it should be in place of the PTR and restoring of electives," said Jaeckle.

A recording of the meeting captured some of her statements.

"We would be foolish to not provide an education for any child that resides in our community. This is about a communication issue between a teacher and a student," said Jaeckle.

Jaeckle says her comments were meant to address a growing issues with communication between teachers and students, which she says has created division.

"The heart of the issue is, the federal government has lowered the level of proficiency for children to be mainstreamed into the classroom," said Jaeckle.

Some community organizations are outraged by the words. One ESOL tutor called them hurtful.

"I felt protective, this kind of 'mama bear' feeling came over me," said Dot Heffron.

"You apologize to every immigrant student," demanded Denisha Potts with the Chesterfield NAACP.

"I don't feel like I have to apologize...I said nothing demeaning," replied Jaeckle. "I was just talking about the choices that you make in funding...and how do we lessen the impact on teachers."

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