School district nixes third French immersion class
What initially looked like a victory for parents looking to enroll their children in French immersion has turned out to be the opposite.
The Kootenay Lake school board voted to keep its Grade 6 immersion program at Trafalgar Middle School capped at 60 students, even though 94 are signed up for next year. The decision comes after intense pressure from some parents to open up a third class of immersion and criticism of the registration process used by SD8.
“Ninety four families that want in were willing to work with you,” Trish Dehnel, a parent who has led the charge for a third class, told the board after the decision was made. “We've been waiting for this for all these years... I am really disappointed.”
Though the board's agenda for the evening contained a motion that would have added a third class of French Immersion, trustees decided to ask superintendent Jeff Jones for a recommendation before they made a decision.
His suggestion: cap the program, review it, and let students in based on who signed up for the program first when registration opened in February.
“Whether you look at it from the left, the right, straight on or behind, there's no argument resources are being deployed from other areas to support this program," he told the board, over murmurs of distress from parents in the audience.
Senior staffers have said that because French immersion has such a high dropout rate it's likely Trafalgar or L.V. Rogers high school will be forced to add extra teachers to deal with the overflow of students returning to English programming.
While parents offered to look at ways to keep students in the program long-term, Jones told the Star he thinks the district needs to fix its attrition problem "before we can grow this program."
He also said a parent suggestion that students be required to stick with the program once they've entered to avoid class size problems didn't sit well with him.
"I just think that it's wrong to encourage young people to stay in programs where they're not being successful or they're not finding the true enjoyment of their learning," he said.
While most of the board was content to follow Jones' lead, North Shore trustee Lenora Trenaman said it wasn't fair to parents who were misinformed about registration, or got their forms too late.
“There is no option that is fair to 34 students and their parents and I want the board to recognize that," she said. "And I hope the administration will kindly find a better process for next year. One that is crystal clear and is fair.”
It was a suggestion Dehnel echoed.
“I would think that you might see this come up again next year so be prepared," she said. "This is a very popular program.”