A delegation of about 20 parents, most from Summerland, attended the meeting of the board of trustees of Okanagan Skaha District 67 Monday evening to press their concerns about the selection process for the Late French Immersion program.
They told the trustees the selection process is unfair for Summerland because a smaller percentage of applicants from Summerland will be selected compared to applicants from the district as a whole.
With the decision to have three classes of 30 each at KVR Middle School in Penticton and one class of 30 at Summerland Middle School, Summerland students have fewer spots available to them.
As well, a policy which favours students who already have a sibling in the program is perceived as unfair to some students.
School board chair Ginny Manning urged the parents of children who were not selected to keep their names on the wait list and see the selection process through in hopes all children can be accommodated in the program.
The wait list numbers can change before the April 15 deadline for acceptance into the Late French Immersion program, and enrolment numbers are also likely to change before school starts in the fall.
Summerland trustee Linda Van Alphen said the board did not want to give the parents false hope about a change in the selection process for this year. Such policies take 18 months to change.
Parent Naomi DeLury told the board her son was unfairly treated in the selection process for the French immersion program.
“To my knowledge, 139 children had applied for the 120 spots, giving him what I thought would have been about an 86 per cent chance of being successful in the random lottery draw.”
However, two factors changed those statistics, she said. He lives in Summerland and he is a first-born child.
“As it turned out, 95 children from Penticton, Naramata, West Bench and Kaleden were given the chance to access 90 spots, a 95 per cent chance of success, while 44 children from Summerland tried for 30 spots, a much lower 68 per cent chance.”
“To add to our dismay, a sibling policy was in effect,” said DeLury.
Because seven others in this grade had such family connections his chances of accessing this program were further reduced.
“I would fully expect that my son should be given the same chance as all the other children in the district and not face discrimination due to the community he lives in or his family status, turning an 86 per cent chance of accessing a valuable learning experience into a 62 per cent chance.”
DeLury said that with the draw complete the only way to accommodate all children fairly is to offer the French immersion to program to all who applied this year.
“For future draws, please pool all children in the district, giving them the opportunity to access the program. If enrolment in the programs must be capped, names should be drawn in from the district pool of applicants and offered a position at the school of their choice. Once full, they could choose the other school and stay on the wait list for a spot to open in their preferred school.”
Also speaking to the board was Diana Fort, who said an additional class should be provided at Summerland Middle School to accommodate the waiting students.
“This year’s wait list is dominated by an extraordinarily strong group of academically inclined and motivated students which includes all three of the grade 5 Gifted students from Trout Creek Elementary School, three children whose parents are French Immersion instructors, at least six of the top 10 highest-ranked students for reading as determined by the Accelerated Reading program at Trout Creek, and one child whose parents chose to educate her in the private school system in order to access French education since there was no existing public early French Immersion program.
“These students are arguably amongst those most likely to see the program through to the end of Grade 12 and graduate with a dual diploma,” said Fort.
The board received letters including one from Summerland Mayor Janice Perrino which noted she had recently been informed that “not all Summerland Grade 6 students who want to take French immersion this coming fall may be eligible for the classes.”
“In our opinion taking away this opportunity for students who want to learn Canada’s second official language seems highly unusual, short-sighted and unfair.
“It is important to families in Summerland that all students wanting to attend the French immersion program be given the opportunity to do so. We do not want to see this go to a stressful, lottery situation where young children’s education is offered if they win in a ‘flip of the dice’ gamble.”
Letters were also presented to the board from Parents4FSL, from Delury, Fort, Brent Harrold, Ryan Moseley, Karen Fort and Debbie Patterson and from student Annika Carlson, expressing concern about the selection lottery and sibling policy.
The Late French Immersion Program takes students from Grades 7 to 12 at Summerland Middle School/Summerland Secondary School, and at KVR Middle School/Penticton Secondary School in Penticton. For six years they do the same courses as other students, but work in French. Attempts to develop an Early French Immersion in the district have so far been unsuccessful.