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Trustees considering doing away with controversial sibling policy

Trustees are contemplating a policy change that would change the way the Okanagan Skaha School District accepts students into French immersion. - Western News file photo
Trustees are contemplating a policy change that would change the way the Okanagan Skaha School District accepts students into French immersion.
— image credit: Western News file photo

Siblings of French immersion students will no longer be guaranteed acceptance into the program, according to the terms of a revised policy under consideration by school trustees.

Okanagan Skaha School District superintendent Wendy Hyer said the changes were drawn up at the request of trustees in response to Summerland parents’ request to level the playing field with Penticton.

“The board said, if you have 100 kids in Penticton and there are 90 spots, those kids have a 90 per cent chance of getting in.

“If you have 40 kids in Summerland and 30 spots, the kids have a 75 per cent chance of getting in, and they didn’t feel that was fair,” Hyer reminded the board’s policy committee at a meeting last week.

Under the current policy, prospective students with a sibling in the program, which begins in Grade 6, are given first crack at a seat, followed by those who reside in the community where space is available. A lottery is eventually held to award spaces to equally qualified, wait-listed students.

The revised policy states that all French immersion seats would be distributed by lottery. Students are, however, guaranteed a space in regular programming at their sibling’s school.

It also does away with catchments areas for the program, meaning each student would get to decide in which community he or she would attend class.

Hyer told trustees the proposal will undoubtedly have opponents.

“It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. When we change this policy, we’re going to get complaints from parents because there’s no sibling clause, or that there’s no catchment area,” she said.

“There’s always someone who doesn’t like it.”

Mona Smythe, president of Okanagan Skaha Parents for French, is looking forward to examining the revisions.

The intent of the current sibling policy was good because it aimed to keep families together, she said, but it “didn’t address the inequality between Summerland and Penticton. That was the biggest issue and it needed to be revamped.”

Her group will be among those consulted by the school board in the coming months before a final amended version of the policy is sent back to the board for consideration.

Meanwhile, Trustee Tracy St. Claire maintained that the board did the right thing last spring when it guaranteed 10 wait-listed Summerland students entry into French immersion this year.

“I thought it was the right decision given that 100 per cent of those kids were from Summerland,” she said in a separate interview.

St. Claire, who brought forward a motion for the guarantee at a meeting in May, was told by the superintendent then that doing so would be a “poor decision,” because it carried unknown financial implications.

Hyer suggested the students would eventually be accommodated anyway as others dropped out of the program, but a majority of trustees wished to give those wait-listed families peace of mind over the summer break.

Due to attrition, the wait list had just three names on it by the time school began in September with three Grade 6 sections in Penticton and one in Summerland, each with 30 kids.

To accommodate the trio, the district added a single student to three classes, according to Don MacIntyre, the district’s director of instruction and curriculum.

He said oversize classes are permitted as long as the teachers involved are properly consulted.

MacIntyre was unsure of the cost of making space for the three students, but said teachers of oversize classes are eligible for extra pay, classroom resources, professional development allowance or preparation time.

Another student dropped out of the program since the start of the school year, so there were just two oversize classes as of last week, he added.

 

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