Northwestern B.C. school district holds off on deciding French Immersion future

Parents at packed school district meeting call for more research and options

French Immersion parents packed the Coast Mountains School District meeting Jan. 25

French Immersion parents packed the Coast Mountains School District meeting Jan. 25

COAST Mountains School District trustees have delayed any decision which would affect the future of the district’s French Immersion program following presentations made by parents and others at a packed and overflowing school district meeting in Terrace last night.

At issue was a recommendation made by a district French Immersion advisory committee to put in place minimum class sizes in order for courses in French to be scheduled.

Options to strengthen the program, particularly in the senior grades, will now be assembled and presented to the board when it meets next in Hazelton on Feb. 22.

Parents among the more than 70 people who attended last night’s meeting said the advisory committee’s recommendations threatened the future of French Immersion in the district.

Approximately 10 per cent of the district’s students are enrolled in French Immersion in Kitimat, Terrace and Hazelton.

Enrolments are healthy in the junior grades but do drop off in senior years.

“We will have district staff do a comprehensive report that will look at a variety of options,” said superintendent Katherine McIntosh. “Then we will also look at the educational pros and cons for those options and the financial aspect.”

Parents and anyone from the public have just over two weeks, up until Feb. 10, to submit ideas on how to proceed.

“We’ve been having this discussion for a long time,” said board chair Shar McCrory, about the reason for the short time frame.

“We’ve gathered quite a bit of information and I think we just need to know what the options are.”

McIntosh agreed.

“We are very mindful of the angst this has caused for parents and families, and we need to get this resolved,” she said. “It’s been going on for too long… I think district staff needs to pull this together and get this in front of the board so they can make an informed decision.”

But parents did not seem to agree.

Shannon McPhail, a parent from Hazelton, said 30 days is “far too quick to make a decision about whether or not the French Immersion program will continue.”

 

“We are just getting organized now as parents and just learning about the concerns that have arisen from this committee,” she said.

She added that she questions how carefully the advisory committee struck by the school district last year researched options, considering that it recommended a distance learning program which is no longer offered.

“If research was done with integrity… then those recommendations would’ve been well researched and people would have understood that the distance learning program wasn’t continuing,” McPhail said.

She said the issue has “lit a fire” under parents, and they will eagerly work with the school district to look more closely at the issues.

“I would like to see a comprehensive recommendation, something that has been carefully thought through, something that we as parents can participate in,” she said, adding an appeal for more time.

“I would like to hear from the board if we could have an extension on that time, continue the French Immersion program until we can actually look at [the questions] correctly.”

Trustees expressed thanks for the parent comments, and emphasized that a decision would not necessarily be made next meeting.

“We need to move forward,” said Terrace trustee Art Erasmus.

“We have some information, we need to get that information before the board,” he added that if it wasn’t enough information or time, they could opt to further extend the window.

Kitimat trustee Margaret Warcup and Terrace trustee Sandy Watson agreed.

“It has been an issue for a number of years,” said Watson, adding that the board simply wants information compiled for the board to look at.

Kitimat trustee Raymond Raj added that the deadline is to keep things moving forward.

“All we’ve done is asked the a

dministration to look into the whole picture and bring us those recommendations,” he said.

Stewart trustee Angela Brand Danuser, said that a decision will not necessarily be made at the next meeting, and she emphasized that there are innovative ways to education already used in small communities like Stewart where the majority of high school classes are taken without a direct classroom teacher.

Trustee Roger Leclerc said that he is happy parents are bringing their feedback and ideas, “the more the better.”

But he also emphasized that whatever the board decides about French Immersion, they will decide based on what is best for the whole school district, not just one program.

But parents were still concerned.

One key mandate of the French Immersion advisory committee was to research why French Immersion students often leave the program in high school.

“That mandate has not been fulfilled,” emphasized several frustrated parents.

Hazelton parent Jocelyn Chandler added that though information has been gathered the last few years, there hasn’t been much discussion around what can actually be done.

“It doesn’t feel like a plan to me,” she said, adding that it seems like a recommendation was made based on only enrolment and finances.

She said the board needs to consider other approaches of how to improve and support the program, and how to find more finances to run it.

“I have trouble understanding how that can be done in a month,” she said.

Again the board noted that the committee which has been researching that very issue, a committee built of people who value French Immersion, will bring that information forward.