Parents angry at renewed French education threat

Hazelton parents are furious as the French Immersion program is once again threatened by northern B.C. school district.

School district trustees are sure to feel the pressure as they decide tonight

A number of Hazelton parents are furious as the French Immersion program is once again threatened by the Coast Mountains School District.

Trustees will decide the future of French Immersion at the school board meeting tonight, and are recommending the district either (1) cut the high school program in Terrace, Kitimat and Hazelton, or (2) cut the upper grades in Kitimat and Hazelton, and keep the Terrace program as it is.

“I would like to ask the school district to name one thing they’ve done to improve the program?” wrote Hazelton parent Noreen O’Hara in a press release from the Hazelton chapter of Canadian Parents for French.

Parents are particularly frustrated because they offered to help boost the program.

Hazelton parent Andrea Vickers indicated that the input they offered included funding ideas and solutions, but it seems that input was ignored.

“We came with solutions, we came with funding to implement those solutions, the number of students in the program is increasing more than 400 per cent over the next 2-3 years, we got input from teachers, parents, administrators, our MLA, MP and other French immersion programs but they still want to cut the program. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Vickers adds that while the educational statistics in this school district are among the lowest in the province, French Immersion graduates have a high success rate.

“I can’t imagine why the board wouldn’t support the programs that contribute to great educational outcomes,” she said.

French Immersion has been in discussion by the school board for several years, threatened by concerns about the expense of the program and its low enrolment.

At the end of last June, French Immersion had 422 students, just under ten per cent of the school district population. The middle and secondary school French program, which is under threat because of declining enrolment (known as attrition), has 100 students in Terrace, 28 in Kitimat and nine students in Hazelton.

A French Advisory committee looked at the program in 2015, and a second one met three times in 2016, culminating in a packed and heated meeting in January where the school district discussed a recommendation about a class size minimum, which would have cut the program in Hazelton and threatened it in Kitimat.

Caption: Julie Stevens, Andrea Vickers, and Carolyn DeFreitas, leaders of the Terrace, Kitimat and Hazelton Parents for French groups, present to the school board about the value of French Immersion programs.

 

Nearly 70 parents crowded the meeting in a show of support for the program.

The district’s French Immersion coordinator Maxine Champion, who is also principal of the French Immersion school in Terrace, was commissioned to gather all the information from prior committees over the next month.

She was to compile it, along with parental input, and cost estimates for the program and present it to the board for a final decision — being made tonight, March 29.

She compiled a 69-page report, listing six options and their costs.

The two options recommended are the following:

(1) Offer the program up to Grade 9 in Terrace and Kitimat, cutting Grades 10-12, and offering it to Grade 7 in Hazelton, cutting Grades 8-12.

This would phase out the Dogwood graduation program in all three communities, and the school district said that those students who want a bilingual diploma would be facilitated.

The estimated cost for this option is $18,000 for the 2017-2018 school year based on student projections.

(2) Offer the program to Grade 12 in Terrace, but only to Grade 9 in Kitimat, and to Grade 7 in Hazelton. The students in Kitimat and Hazelton would be streamed into “an intensive Core French course,” says the report.

Students who wanted a bilingual diploma could partner with a long distance evaluator or they could enrol in the Terrace program and stay with host families.

This option has a cost estimate of $33,278.

The other four options were as follows:

(3) Maintain the status quo and offer the program to Grade 12 in all three communities, with students graduating with a Dual Dogwood Certificate.  The cost is estimated at $90,375, and according to the report, it is not financially viable or sustainable for the school district, due to low enrolment and required staffing needed to facilitate the program.

(4) Offer the program only for the elementary grades in all three communities, streaming them into the English program in Grades 7/8. The Dogwood certificate program would be phased out over two years so that students currently enrolled will be able to graduate with it.

No cost estimate is given, but the report states that enrolment may drop if students can no longer qualify for a bilingual diploma.

(5) Offer the program to Grade 12 in Terrace and Kitimat, and to Grade 7 in Hazelton.

This option is estimated to cost $63,371 for the next school year.

(6) Initiate class size minimums of 18 students in combined grades for Grades 10 – 12 in Terrace and Kitimat, and 15 students in Hazelton for Grades 8 – 12.

Local Distance Learning Courses would be developed for upper grades if there weren’t enough students for the program.

The report states that this option was fully researched, but “due to the high cost versus the low benefit to students, it was agreed that this option was deemed unfeasible.”

For the full report, see the school district agenda here.

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