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School board challenges French Immersion expansion on Westside

Central Okanagan trustees cool to idea of Mount Boucherie Secondary absorbing Westside FI students now attending an overcrowded KSS

A request by school district staff to implement a temporary French Immersion (FI) program at Mount Boucherie Secondary (MBSS) for the 2022-23 school year ran into pushback from the Central Okanagan Board of Education.

While trustees ultimately voted to defer the staff recommendation for further discussion, some trustees were not happy the request was being made in the first place.

The report submitted with the resolution suggested a commitment was made to have current FI students at École Glenrosa Middle School remain on the Westside through Grade 12, something school board chair Moyra Baxter took exception to.

Baxter said the previous school board dealing with the French Immersion issue five years ago said it would support, not commit, to such a promise, which was reflected in the original resolution adopted by the board on this issue on Jan. 31, 2018.

“Those are two very different words,” Baxter said. “I don’t remember that we ever made that promise and I am quite shocked to be seeing that now in this resolution.”

Baxter, who was a Westside school trustee at the time, said the overwhelming concern from parents was for Westside FI students to not become an isolated cohort, but rather to interact with other FI students and receive a socially diverse education experience given their small numbers.

READ MORE: School board resolves French Immersion expansion on Westside

She voiced her frustration at moving FI students to Mount Boucherie, who currently would attend École Kelowna Senior Secondary (KSS), calling it another example of “not looking at the big picture” in long-term school district planning.

Baxter said the singular issue behind the staff recommendation is the overcrowding concerns facing KSS, and while moving Westside FI students to Mount Boucherie might offer an answer to KSS enrolment concerns, MBSS can’t take on the additional students with already 11 portables on the school site.

“I guarantee if we did this you’d see the portable number going up to 15,” Baxter said.

Westside trustee Chantelle Desrosier sided with Baxter, saying more time is needed to examine the implications of moving FI students into MBSS.

She said the promise of a second secondary school on the Westside is the ultimate senior secondary French Immersion solution, but the new school is still not confirmed beyond it being determined as a capital spending priority for the school district by the ministry of education this fall.

“We don’t know yet for certain what that time frame will be for the new school, and it is very concerning to me that temporary could be a very long time,” Desrosier said.

She also agreed addressing KSS enrolment issues without taking into account a potential impact on MBSS in the same discussion.

“We have to look at those two issues together, not in isolation of one another,” she said.

“I am not prepared to move on this resolution without a lot more information.”

Trustee Rolli Cacchioni added that KSS parents also express to him their concerns about their kids living within the KSS catchment area but being registered in other schools.

“There has to be some compromise where all students are dealt with in an equitable manner, and no one is displaced from their (catchment area) school. That is a critical issue for me,” he said.

Kevin Kaardal, school district superintendent/CEO, noted school enrolment issues drive decisions that impact the entire school district, but agreed making the best effort to look at conflicting issues in concert with one another is the best road forward.

As for the new Westside high school, Kaardal said it is coming.

“A land purchase deal is in place…I would expect to hear some kind of formal announcement next spring and away we go,” he said, noting from start to finish it takes about five years to complete a new school.

After a lengthy debate, the board opted to defer the resolution back to the planning and facilities committee meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 6 p.m., for further discussion and to make a recommendation to the board.

Trustees are faced with a Jan. 13, 2021, deadline for a decision on the resolution.

The meeting time has been switched from the normal 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. start to allow for more parent participation in the meeting via Zoom.

“It’s going to be a long meeting, ” Baxter said.

Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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