Penticton school trustee seeks to guarantee French immersion spaces

School board has also given preliminary approval to a policy that would award limited seats by lottery

Trustee Walter Huebert

Trustee Walter Huebert

The school board has tentatively agreed to rewrite a policy that gives preference to some students seeking entrance into late French immersion.

However, the change could be rendered moot before it even takes effect.

At the Okanagan Skaha School District’s next board meeting, Jan. 13, Trustee Walter Huebert plans to introduce a motion to guarantee qualified students entry into next year’s program, which has limited space available.

“We have two official languages and I think we should be prepared to offer it to all of our kids here in the school district,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

“We owe it to them.”

Huebert acknowledged that the motion, if passed, would supersede the revised policy, but declined to speculate about its chances of passing.

“We’ll wait until January, at which time we’ll have discussion,” he said.

“I’m sure there will be budget concerns, for sure.”

The issue came to the forefront last year when a group of Summerland parents asked the school board to do away with a policy provision that guarantees a spot to children who have a sibling already in late French immersion.

Since then, the board began preparations to award all spaces by lottery.

It spent the past three months in consultation  and on Wednesday a policy committee recommended the board adopt the new wording at its January meeting.

Trustee Bruce Johnson said if parents are asking for elimination of the sibling policy, then the board should to try to make it happen.

“These people are our constituents. They’re who we’re working for,” he said.

“The only negative is some years it’s going to cost us a little bit more money.”

Secretary-treasurer Bonnie Roller Routley warned, however, that it could be possible in an extreme case that such a guarantee could force the district to hire an extra teacher to accommodate a single student.

“A bit of money is one (full-time equivalent) teacher, which right now, the average cost is $93,000,” she said.

The committee also agreed to retain a provision that calls for the superintendent to decide how many sections of French immersion will be offered, but also to give the board input during its annual budget process.

“I’m not comfortable, and haven’t been for a long time, treating late French immersion like a totally different, special program,” said trustee Ginny Manning.

“We have highly qualified, competent, trained staff that can make those kind of logistical decisions.”

Trustee Shelley Clarke noted the sibling policy has only been in effect for two years and that, despite waiting lists, the district has always been able to accommodate every student who wanted to enroll into the late French immersion program.

The program begins in Grade 6 with the district this year running three sections in Penticton and one in Summerland.