Northwestern B.C. school board delays French program decison

The Coast Mountains School District will decide at the end of March on how to proceed with its French Immersion high school program.

The Coast Mountains School District has delayed its decision about how to continue its French Immersion program, citing the need for more time to analyze information and frame options for a plan.

Originally the options were set to be presented to the board for decision tonight, Feb. 22, at its meeting in Hazelton, but parents and others were informed via email last week that it would be delayed a month.

“Due to the amount of feedback received, and the additional time required by staff to compile the report…[the report will be presented March 29],” read the email from the school district to parents.

That date is the next the board meeting and will be in Terrace.

Carolyn DeFreitas, chair of the Terrace chapter of Canadian Parents for French, said she hopes the delay means the school district is taking time to  carefully think everything through.

“I hope the extension is a sign the board is being more thoughtful about their decision,” she said in an email late last week.

“With a packed school district office at their January meeting, trustees saw that families feel French language learning is important in our communities from kindergarten to Grade 12. Making snap decisions without appropriate research and data collection, nor fully understanding the impacts of their decision isn’t what French Immersion parents want to see trustees do,” she added. “We want the board to implement strategies that keep our French Immersion numbers strong and create a vibrant program kids want to stay in.”

After hearing from the district’s French Immersion advisory committee at their last meeting Jan. 25, the school board commissioned the district’s program coordinator Maxine Champion to collect all the information from prior studies and lay out options for how the program should proceed.

The options are meant to find a cost-effective way to run the program, and address why a large number of students leave the program in secondary and high school (attrition).

The low number of students in high school French Immersion, combined with financial restrictions facing the district, prompted the school board in fall 2015 to initiate investigation into how to run  the program cost-effectively. A French Immersion advisory committee was organized 2015-16, and a second one met last year several times to research and discuss the issues.

At last January’s meeting, the second committee recommended a class size minimum and distance learning for high school French Immersion — both ideas adamantly opposed by parents.

This committee also recommended an ongoing French Immersion advisory committee be established and a questionnaire be given to families of students who leave the program in order for further research.

“We will have district staff do a comprehensive report that will look at a variety of options,” said superintendent Katherine McIntosh at their January 2017 meeting. “Then we will also look at the educational pros and cons for those options and the financial aspect.”

The January meeting was packed with close to 70 parents from Terrace, Hazelton and Kitimat, showing support for the program and emphasizing their desire to work with the district to make the program sustainable.

Parents lobbied for more time to research and provide feedback for the decision, but school trustees said the topic had been discussed for a long time and well-researched by committees over the last two years.

The board gave parents until Feb. 10,two weeks, to submit any ideas and suggestions. School district staff emphasized last week that the delay did not mean further feedback would be received.

“It is important to note the stakeholder feedback submission deadline was February 10, 2017 and further feedback will not be received despite the revised report presentation date to the Board of Education on March 29,” the district told parents and others in an email.

There are 432 students in French Immersion this year, about 10 per cent of the school district population.

While there are between 30 and 60 students in French Immersion from Kindergarten to Grade 7, the high school program (Grade 8 and up) has nine students in Hazelton, 28 in Kitimat, and 55 in Terrace.

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