Okanagan Mission Secondary will have a French Immersion (FI) program implemented for the 2022-23 school year.
The Central Okanagan Board of Education approved the move by a 4-3 vote after a three-hour debate, Wednesday (Jan.13), that included presentations from parent groups representing École Dorothea Walker and École KLO Middle FI students opposed to the move.
Other resolutions were also brought up, all related to addressing the overcrowding situation facing École Kelowna Secondary (KSS) for the next three school years.
The trustees approved capping the international student enrolment, which has been as high as 111 foreign students, at 65 full-time equivalent spaces, to be reviewed annually. They also defeated a motion to defer the FI program decision for Okanagan Mission Secondary (OKM) until June and not entertain the original recommendation from staff to start the FI program this fall for the 2021-22 school year.
Trustees Julia Fraser, Amy Geistlinger and school board chair Moyra Baxter opposed FI students from the Dorothea Walker-KLO Middle School pathway being shifted to a new program at OKM, while trustees Norah Bowman, Rolli Cacchioni, Chantelle Desrosiers and Lee-Ann Tiede were in favour.
Fraser felt more consultation should be carried out with parents who will see their children being split from their KLO Middle School cohort when they reach Grade 10. Geistlinger felt more effort should be made to exhaust all possible options to reduce the student enrolment burden at KSS.
Baxter voiced her frustration during the debate as to why the school district appears to be overly accommodating international students attending KSS, even though they are the lowest priority on the enrolment preference list, while FI students are being shuffled off to another school.
Bowman said she was confident the school district staff had already exhausted all potential options for reducing KSS enrolment. She added, delaying the FI move would only mean trustees were avoiding making a difficult decision.
“Absolutely, OKM is a great school and I believe our district staff can put together a good (French Immersion) program and students will be able to graduate with a dual Dogwood diploma…to say otherwise is insulting to our staff,” said Bowman.
Trustee Tiede, who is an international student host parent and saw her kids go through the FI program, added that delaying the move won’t change the decision the board now faces, but will give affected parents and students more time to prepare for the change.
Kevin Kaardal, superintendent/CEO for Central Okanagan Public Schools, noted there are programs in place to assist students transitioning to new schools. He reiterated that while small in numbers, starting at 45 and growing to 129 by the third year, all would be welcomed by OKM staff and students as a new program for the school.