Anne-Marie Prudhomme and her daughter. Photo: Submitted

Anne-Marie Prudhomme and her daughter. Photo: Submitted

Parents seek answers for francophone students in Nelson

A plan to ditch bilingual high school programs has families confused

By Marie-Paule Berthiaume

Initiative de journalisme local, APF, Ouest reporter

Parents in eight rural school communities with children enrolled with the French school board Conseil scolaire francophone en Colombie-Britannique (CSF) were shaken by the announcement that their bilingual high school programs would be eliminated and replaced by a French-language structure as of September 2021.

The CSF later announced that they would continue the bilingual program in these smaller communities until the new programs could be properly launched.

However, due to the removal of Grade 9 from Nelson’s L.V. Rogers beginning in September, the children who would transition from the CSF elementary school that ends at Grade 8 now have to choose between a hybrid program based at the elementary school and various locations in Nelson, or going to Trafalgar Middle School.

The president of the Sentiers-alpins’ Parents’ Association, Émilie Leblanc Kromberg, was positive about the Supreme Court ruling last June that stated British Columbia must provide an equivalent education in French as offered in English. She had no idea that a resolution taken by the board members of the CSF announcing the end of the bilingual high school program in Nelson would challenge her at the beginning of the school year.

For Anne-Marie Prudhomme, whose children have been attending the CSF for more than 10 years, the resolution left her in a state of disbelief. Chantal Guillemette, who immediately formed a discussion group, was more inclined to challenge the decision.

Since then, the three mothers of children in Grade 8 at Sentiers-alpins elementary school have a list of questions they feel are still unanswered. IJL Ouest met with them to discuss.

What are your current concerns?

Anne-Marie Prudhomme: I was hurt by the way things turned out. They sent me an email and then it was all over. My daughter had been waiting for years to go to the bilingual school program. Parents like myself, who have been there since the beginning, have been wholeheartedly involved in developing the bilingual program in partnership with the CSF. … How will the CSF expand and keep children in their new program? Do they jump to the French exclusive structure right away or do they transition to get the children and their parents to stay? What are the solutions for small communities that really don’t have the same realities as the big cities?

Chantal Guillemette: There are so many questions about the basis of the CSF’s actions this year and there is no explanation at all. Why did our representative on the CSF board not take the time to come and consult with his schools and why was the decision made in the summer without discussing with the parents and children? Do we really have to adopt this structure? And how can we boost the quality of French of the youngest children in order to expand the francophone space?

Émilie Leblanc Kromberg: The Parents’ Association did not immediately partner with Chantal and her discussion group on the transition to a French exclusive structure. But as time went on, the CSF still offered us nothing. They communicated with us on how they were going to consult with parents. It was absolutely ridiculous. They took away the plans we had for our child next year without telling us anything about what we were going to do instead. I also realized fairly quickly that the majority of parents in the affected communities did not agree with the decision of the CSF. So the Parents’ Association joined forces with Chantal’s group.

What is the next step?

Kromberg: As president of the Parents’ Association, I am now part of what the CSF calls an ad-hoc committee to prepare for the transition to a French exclusive structure. My daughter has been telling me since the beginning that she wants to go to school in French so she will do her Grade 9 at the CSF.

Guillemette: I am waiting to hear from the CSF on the plan submitted by our administration for French exclusive Grade 9. I hope to be able to make a decision when we return from March break. My daughter will make her own way by organizing a school exchange with Quebec and then, come what may for the rest.

Prudhomme: Now that my daughter is leaving the French exclusive program to do Grade 9 French immersion at Trafalgar, will she be able to go back to the bilingual program afterwards at LVR and enjoy the status quo with the CSF? I hope they will slow down the current process and develop a five-year plan to prepare for the transition.

This interview has been translated and edited for clarity.

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