Ecole Dr. Knox Middle School offers dual French Immersion and English track curriculums. (File photo)

Central Okanagan French Immersion faces school space squeeze challenge

Single/dual track French Immersion option sparks debate

The ability for Central Okanagan Public Schools to offer equitable English and French Immersion (FI) education dual-track programs came under question at the planning and facilities committee meeting on Wednesday (June 3).

The debate arose out of the long-term facilities plan submission, in which the committee was unified in commending school district administrative staff for setting a plan to deal with rising enrolment over the next five years and beyond.

Last updated in 2012, the capital plan, offers school boards a guide to future decision-making, with each capital initiative still needing further board approval while providing critical context for discussions with the ministry of education on future new and replacement school funding requests.

Moyra Baxter, who as the board of education chair participates in a non-voting capacity for committee meetings, said she was “terribly disappointed” to see one aspect of the report include a statement about the benefits of single track French Immersion schools.

Besides dual-track schools being the formal school district policy, she said reasons, why single-track schools are good and bad, can easily be sourced out in social media “to learn whatever you want to hear.”

“This only perpetuates the belief that French Immersion students get better services than English students…and leads more to the idea that French Immersion parents feel entitled to French Immersion being offered when it is clearly a program of choice offered by the school district,” Baxter said.

Baxter argued that dual-track programs offer a more equitable distribution of resources and school program enhancement to all students.

Terry Beaudry, deputy superintendent, defended the single track benefits included in the report as being recognition of being a potentially new concept for the school district.

Beaudry said school district staff will always endeavour to provide the pros and cons of single/dual track schools at the school board’s request or should the issue be advanced further than the current discussion stage.

Baxter noted as spiking enrolment places greater pressure on existing school space, the ability to offer French Immersion becomes increasingly challenging.

“We have to think seriously at this point about what we are going to do with French Immersion,” she said.

She said presenting one-sided arguments in a report is what drives up anxiety among parents.

Trustee Norah Bowman, a voting committee member along with fellow trustees Lee-Ann Tiede and committee chair Chantelle Desrosiers, cited the education equity between French Immersion and English track students as needing to be discussed “in a respective way.”

She suggested the consultation already earmarked for this fall on changes to Westside and Mission school catchment areas and leased out education facilities being repurposed as schools offer an opportunity to include the French Immersion program as part of that initiative.

Zachary Johnson spoke to the committee about his experience as a Grade 10 French Immersion program student at Kelowna Secondary School, saying the student experience at elementary school is equal for FI and English track students, but that perspective changes at the middle and secondary school levels.

Johnson said the main difference, beyond learning subjects like science or math in French, is that FI students take an extra French language course required to earn their dual Dogwood graduation certificate, while English students can take other electives of their choosing.

The committee was unanimous in passing a resolution to forward the long-term capital plan to the board of education for adoption, without the reference to the benefits of French Immersion single-track schools.

READ MORE: School board commits to French Immersion for Lake Country

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