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Eagle County School District Replaces Foreign Language Teachers With Computers

EDWARDS, Colo. (CBS4) - As part of a massive budget balancing, one school district is now getting rid of most of the foreign language teachers and replacing them with computers.

While the district says it's necessary to cut spending, students and parents aren't pleased.

The Eagle County School District is calling it a blended online learning model. They've tested it out at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, which specializes in distance education with students. But even the teacher from that class, who was laid off, says it's going to hurt the students.

"I knew there were going to be cuts but I never thought the foreign languages were targets," teacher Cynthia Blanke said.

Blanke has worked for Eagle County Schools for 17 years, teaching everything from Latin, German, Spanish and French. But she was told her services were no longer needed.

"It was a total surprise to me," Blanke said.

The Eagle County School District is cutting $5.5 million from its budget and sees a switch to software as one cost-cutting answer. It's something that Blanke had already used at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy.

"Huge differences, huge differences," she said. "In a nutshell, it's the interaction between the teacher and the student that's missing."

It presents a hard choice for over 100 students who are already studying the languages that are making the high-tech switch.

"I know someone who is going to do it because they don't want to take another language, and they're passionate about the language they're taking," Battle Mountain High School freshman George Jouflas said.

The district will provide an aide for students in the classroom, but many people don't think it's the correct answer.

"You don't get the hands on experience or culture from a teacher or someone who personally has experience with it," Jouflas said.

Eagle County Schools doesn't have a foreign language graduation requirement, but it's recommended for nearly all college admissions.

"Students just aren't given the option they'd normally be given to fulfill the classes they want," Jouflas said.

"I'm worried about the kids, I really am," Blanke said.

At the district's largest schools, like Battle Mountain, a few teachers have been kept on staff. About 140 students take Mandarin. That teacher was re-hired through a grant. So many students take Spanish that those teachers are being retained.

The district says it will assess next year if the blended online learning model is working or not.

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