No seat on the school bus for Central Okanagan French Immersion students

Parent advocates for transportation ‘fair treatment’ for FI students

French Immersion students are not eligible to ride a school bus outside of their English school catchment within he Central Okanagan School District. (File photo)

French Immersion students are not eligible to ride a school bus outside of their English school catchment within he Central Okanagan School District. (File photo)

A Kelowna lawyer says French Immersion (FI) students are being unfairly denied access to school busing in the Central Okanagan School District.

Susan Kootnekoff gave a presentation to the Central Okanagan Board of Education last Wednesday, suggesting that FI students be given the same equitable treatment offered to Francophone students.

Kootnekoff argued that regardless of the cost, French Immersion students should have access to school busing under the criteria set forth by the school district.

She said the school district position, based on provincial government education funding policy, that FI is a program of choice effectively eliminates them from the same treatment as English program students.

“French Immersion students can meet the criteria for access to bus transportation set up by the school district but then you get to the phrase program of choice,” said Kootnekoff, who argued is not legal under the Charter of Rights, which protects Francophone student rights, and predicted will eventually be challenged in the courts.

“French Immersion students are being treated as second-class citizens.”

Kootnekoff said relying on public transit to get to schools often leads to more than an hour of travel time to and from home each school day, and raises concerns about student safety.

“That is stressful for students and for their parents,” she said.

Moyra Baxter, board of education chair, said the school district is following provincial policy on two scores – one is that school busing is not considered a funding requirement by the ministry of education; and that legal interpretation aside, French Immersion remains a program of choice.

“You are a lawyer, we are not when it comes to what the Charter of Rights says or does not say,” Baxter said in response to Kootnekoff’s argument.

“But at that point, Francophone rights and French Immersion rights are not the same things. We could end French Immersion tomorrow if we chose to because it is not required under the School Act.”

READ MORE: Kootnekoff: Keeping a lid on French Immersion in Western Canada

She noted the school district does its best to offer a French Immersion program under difficult budget considerations to meet the demand of local parents and does the same for school busing which absorbs $3.1 million in funding otherwise meant for school education services.

Trustee Chantelle Desrosiers added to meet Kootnekoff’s FI student bussing demands, it would require the purchase of another 25 buses, at a cost of $200,000 each, and the cost to operate them.

“What else are we going to cut in order to make that happen?” asked Desrosiers.

The current school district busing policy serves students who meet the distance criteria from their English catchment school – 3 kilometres for elementary schools, four km for middle school and 4.8 km for secondary schools.

Leftover seats not required for eligible students are then provided to courtesy students on the following priorities – first provided to elementary and middle school students; furthest home to school distance; if the distance is the same then grade level; and if distance and grade level are the same, application date and timestamp.

Students who attend a program or school of choice are not eligible for bus service.

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

READ MORE: French Immersion shakeup for Okanagan Mission students

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