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Madison West High is the last school in MMSD to have a Latin program, and it will be eliminated next year.

The Madison Metropolitan School District will lose its only Latin program next year as West High School faces staffing cuts.

Among the 6.1 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions the school is cutting for 2022-23 based on the budget it received from the school district is the sole Latin teacher, Michelle Bayouth, who began her position in 2019. Bayouth made her concerns about losing the program public at the School Board meeting on Feb. 28.

“This is devastating to me personally and to the many hundreds of parents and students who have lodged their objections,” she said.

Bayouth declined to comment further when reached by the Cap Times.

In a letter to families of students currently taking Latin classes, West principal Karen Boran wrote that she took four years of Latin in high school herself “and understand(s) the importance of courses such as Latin as the cornerstone of a liberal arts education.” She blamed the cut on “the undeniable realities we currently face” of staffing cuts.

“These are very complex and hard decisions to make,” Boran wrote. “The reality of this situation has caused us to not fill vacancies created by retiring staff, we have increased class sizes, and unfortunately, it has also forced us to cut programs, one of which was Latin.”

MMSD spokesman Tim LeMonds wrote in an email that the 6.1 FTE cut is a combination of two years of enrollment losses. Last year, enrollment decreased such that West lost three positions, LeMonds wrote, but the school was “allowed to retain those positions due to COVID.”

Based on projections for next year, enrollment will decrease further to the point that another 3.1 FTE will be cut, leaving the school to determine how it would cut 6.1 total. Boran wrote in her letter that West is projected to lose another 60 students going into next school year.

West junior Anne ​​Czajkowski, who is in Latin 4 this year, said “it was really heartbreaking” to find out the program was being cut ahead of her senior year. Her class had been planning a trip to Italy that was canceled because of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, she said, and finding out the program would be discontinued was a surprise on top of that.

“It completely came out of nowhere, none of us even thought that was a possibility at this point,” Czajkowski said. “We were still holding out hope that we might go to Italy, and to know that not only did the trip get canceled, we also don’t have Latin next year at all.”

Czajkowski said she and other students had already signed up for Latin classes next year — the course guide comes out before FTE decisions are made — and they are now left scrambling to try to find another language class.

“If you turn in your course card first you get priority,” she said. “So people who are trying to get into different language classes, they’re not going to be high on the priority list to get in so they might not be able to get a language at all.”

Boran sent them an opportunity to take a college-level Latin course through the University of Wisconsin, but Czajkowski said the email came a day before the form was due to receive college credit. Czajkowski is hoping she’ll be able to take the class anyway.

“It just feels like people are just saying things so it’s like they tried, or, ‘See we did put thought into this’ or ‘We’re sorry, here’s solutions,’ but they’re just superficial,” she said.

At the board meeting, Bayouth said that while schools endure staffing cuts, students are “left to fight over limited resources,” questioning if the district administration and board are focused on the right things to facilitate learning.

“My own students are not focused on learning right now,” Bayouth said. “They realize that they will not be able to get the sequential world language courses to enable them to apply to the colleges of their choice. They see their futures being pruned away at the stroke of an administrator’s pen.”

The last in MMSD

Gale Stone taught Latin at West beginning in 1997 until her retirement in June 2019, when her former student teacher Bayouth took over.

Prior to that, she taught the course at La Follette High School. She watched as the Latin program got cut around the district: In 1986 at East, 1988 at Memorial and eventually in 2000 or 2001 at La Follette, just a few years after she had moved to West.

“I have said since 1986 that every single high school in Madison should have Latin,” Stone said.

The language provides a “broad-based education” and “attracts a different sort of student who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere else,” Stone said.

“Their home base was their Latin classroom and it’s true for Michelle’s students, also,” Stone said. “So not only are you losing the education basis, but you’re also losing that social-emotional safety net.”

That’s true for Czajkowski and her classmates, she said.

“(Bayouth is) really the only teacher that I feel really cares about our mental health and how heavy our workload is at the moment,” she said. “She’ll move exams for us, she’ll help us with other classes, too.

“She just really cares, and it’s rare that I feel like a teacher cares.”

Latin is an opportunity to learn both a language and provide a “history background,” Stone explained, from researching the roots of democracy to understanding mythological references. Those various studies help students learn a variety of important skills.

“You become a better speaker, a better writer and a stronger reader,” Stone said. “All of these things that we’re falling short on nowadays.”

Czajkowski, who took French in middle school and did not enjoy it, agreed that history lessons are tied into the curriculum, and said her Latin classes have “always been one of my favorites.”

Both Stone and Czajkowski said West has had a Latin language course since 1935, with the junior calling it “one of the things West was known for,” which she said makes the decision “seem very backwards.”

“Latin isn’t just about learning the language,” Czajkowski said. “It’s about history, it’s about sentence structure and derivatives and the composition of the English language.

“It’s not smart to cut Latin.”

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