Single track option rejected again for two Mission elementary schools

Bellevue Creek and Dorothea Walker to remain dual track English-FI schools

Reconsideration of the idea to convert Bellevue Creek and Dorothea Walker elementary schools into single track French Immersion and English student programs, a variation from the school district's current dual track policy, was rejected by the Central Okanagan Board of Education. (File photo)

A Lake Country trustee was unable to convince the rest of the Central Okanagan Board of Education to reconsider a decision to avoid splitting up siblings under a new catchment policy adopted for English and French Immersion (FI) students at École Dorothea Walker and École Bellevue Creek elementary schools.

After the board of education unanimously adopted the catchment review changes for the two schools at the Jan. 26 board meeting, Amy Giestlinger said at Wednesday’s board meeting she was struggling to respond to parents voicing concerns of the negative impact of Kindergarten to Grade 6 children being split up in different schools.

“I am afraid my changing my decision won’t have enough support to reverse the decision of the board,” Geistlinger said.

“But I remain hopeful ongoing dialogue with school district staff, the parent advisory council and the new principal (for École Bellevue Creek Elementary) will create opportunities for brainstorming on these issues presented by parents and addressed in a passionate and empathetic way.”

Geistlinger introduced a motion for the board to meet and reconsider its original decision, but other trustees were not swayed by her argument.

The debate was sparked by three current École Dorothea Walker moms who made a unified pitch for the board to walk back what they felt was “a wrong decision,” advocating instead for the single track option that would divide the FI and English students into their own K-6 schools.

Ashleigh Christensen, with a daughter in Grade 2 and another daughter entering Kindergarten next September, said splitting up siblings will be stressful on the affected kids, and create added stress facing the prospect of picking up kids at both schools at the same time.

“This will create additional barriers for our kids to attend school in this district and difficult inequities for families to overcome,” added parent LeeAnna Cordes.

Parent Haley Gershony, with three kids in the school system, said the stress of COVID-19 has already placed additional burdens on parents the last two years, and the dual tracking concept will just add further difficult logistics, citing in particular the impact on the moms.

“We all know that if mom is not feeling okay, the family is not feeling okay,” said Gershony. “With children and parents now experiencing record high rates of anxiety and depression, it is important if at all possible to keep families together in school.”

Other trustees were sympathetic to the parents’ concerns expressed, saying for them and others negatively affected by the catchment changes to reach out to the Dorothea Walker parent advisory council, school district staff and the new principal at École Bellevue Creek Elementary, the hiring of which is expected to be formally announced by the school district this week.

Trustee Norah Bowman said she carefully reviewed the community input that descended on the school district following the Jan. 26 meeting, and noted the contribution of a study illustrating how single track schools were better for FI students.

“The problem with that study is our priority for our school district is not educating students in French, that is the role of francophone schools,” Bowman explained.

She said the primary concern for Central Okanagan Public School is English track students, as French Immersion remains an optional program for B.C. school districts, one the Central Okanagan school board has established and worked to enhance due to interest from parents to enrol their kids in the program.

Bowman said she trusts any issues with students not being able to get to school is a circumstance that school district staff will address in the Bellevue Creek-Dorothea Walker grade split, as it does with other schools across the district.

“Our staff work hard at this and the solutions available to us are not always perfect but we do the best we can with limited resources to provide public education to everyone,” said Bowman.

Board chair Moyra Baxter said all trustees should have expected to hear blowback from the Jan. 26 decision, but that is no reason to second-guess a decision that included a public consultation process and debate among trustees at the committee level dating back to October 2021.

“We heard over and over again that the number one concern from parents with this catchment change is to do something that will cause the least amount of disruption to families at Dorothea Walker,” Baxter said.

“We should stay the course and do what we believed was the right thing to do two weeks ago…these parents have brought up some good points, we should listen and respect them…and find ways going forward to make this an exciting new education experience for children.”

READ MORE: Central Okanagan single track French Immersion school idea dropped