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Size limit stays on late French immersion program

Trustee Walter Huebert - Submitted
Trustee Walter Huebert
— image credit: Submitted

French immersion will continue to operate as a limited-entry program in local schools, despite an effort to throw open the classroom doors to every student who wants in.

The board of the Okanagan Skaha School District on Monday rejected Trustee Walter Huebert’s motion to guarantee space in the program, which for the 2013-14 session offered new students spots in four Grade 6 classes.

Huebert, who registered the lone vote in favour, said in an interview Tuesday he was disappointed with his colleagues’ decision.

Nonetheless, Huebert said he understood why his colleagues defeated the motion.

Of primary concern is the unknown financial implications of such a guarantee.

“I guess the other board members were quite cautionary about that,” he said, noting that a separate policy change will give trustees more input into how many sections are offered each year.

“During budget time the issue will come up again,” he said. “It’s not lost.”

Assistant superintendent Dave Burgoyne told the board that a high attrition rate in late French immersion, plus the variable number of applicants from year to year, makes guaranteeing spaces difficult and possibly expensive.

He explained that teachers are entitled to additional compensation of $2,400 for each student over the class-size limit of 30, but that there’s little room beyond that number.

“If the decision was the class or classes that had 32 kids in them were not appropriate for learning, then it would require another division, and that extra division would cost $93,300,” Burgoyne said.

The board also heard that in the past five years, the number of students who dropped out of late French immersion has ranged from six to 29, including 18 so far this year, and finding homes for those kids in English-track programming could be tough once classes are set.

Trustee Ginny Manning said that in addition to budgetary issues, she was concerned that guaranteeing French immersion seats could be seen as giving preferential treatment to one group of kids.

“I’m worried that someone, if we went ahead with this, would complain that they were discriminated against because their child didn’t get the same consideration with another program or another course or another class,” Manning said.

She also urged colleagues to allow time for the policy amendments approved Monday to be given a chance to work.

Among the changes is a move to award all seats in French immersion by lottery, which will end the practice of guaranteeing spaces to students who have siblings in the program.

The board will also be required to confirm at budget time the number of classes in the program that will be offered the following year.

“I think that we’ve really moved forward on this whole French immersion situation,” said board chairman Bruce Johnson.

As of Dec. 20, there were 671 kids enrolled in French immersion from Grades 6-12 at schools in Penticton and Summerland, representing about 11 per cent of the district’s entire student body.

The board last year considered adding early French immersion to begin in kindergarten, but opted against doing so because of unknown startup costs.

 

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