Summerland parents want equal access to French program

Parent group suggests kids in Penticton area have better odds of getting a seat in late French immersion program

About 40 people in Summerland have formed a group called Parents 4FSL to lobby for more late French immersion seats in their community.

About 40 people in Summerland have formed a group called Parents 4FSL to lobby for more late French immersion seats in their community.

A group of Summerland parents is calling on the school district to provide more equal access to its late French immersion program.

Those parents on Monday attended a board meeting of the Okanagan Skaha School District to outline concerns about “discrimination,” stemming from limited classroom space in their community and a sibling policy that gives preferential treatment to some kids.

The program, which begins in Grade 6, usually has a waiting list, and a lottery is held to select which kids get in.

“Please treat all district children the same and take immediate action to rectify the discrimination some of our children have been subjected to,” Naomi DeLury told the board. “At this point in the process, with the draw complete, I believe the only avenue left to accomplish this is to offer the French immersion program to all who applied this year.”

The parents believe the lottery is unfair because the school district intends next year to offer one late French immersion class in Summerland and three in Penticton.

As of February, there were 44 kids in the Summerland catchment area vying for one of 30 spots there, and 96 kids in the Penticton catchment area looking for one of 90 seats here, according to a staff report provided to the board.

DeLury said that means her son, whom she’s seeking to enrol in the Summerland program next year, has longer odds of winning a spot than peers in the Penticton area. She said his chances are further impaired because he does not have a sibling already in the program, which would have guaranteed him a spot.

Trustee Ginny Manning, who chairs the school board, thanked the parents, who have formed a group called Parents4FSL, for outlining their concerns and said such input would be considered during budget deliberations.

“Don’t think we don’t hear you; we do,” Manning said.

Don MacIntyre, the school district’s director of instruction, said later that the situation is still “somewhat fluid” since parents have until April 15 to accept the first round of offers of entry into the program. He said later that there would need to be 60 students in Summerland interested in late French immersion before the board would add another class there.

However, Manning said all options are still on the table.

“We have not ruled anything out,” she said. “We need to let the process work its way through.”

Superintendent Wendy Hyer noted that despite having an annual wait list for the program, no student has ever been turned away, although some have been offered last-minute spots in schools outside their home communities.

Summerland’s two school board representatives are content to let the process play out.

“I think Summerland kids should go to school in Summerland and I’m hoping there will be enough students to make two classes,” said Trustee Linda Beaven.

Trustee Linda Van Alphen noted the issue is further complicated by the need to make sure space isn’t sacrificed  in regular English-track classes to open more French immersion seats.

“There are lots of challenges to it,” Van Alphen said. “We’re doing the best we can and we all are meaning for this to be as fair as it possibly can be.”

The district is also investigating the feasibility of an early French immersion program. The board is expected to decide later this spring on whether or not to proceed to actually planning such a program, and was told last month it would likely start with one class in Summerland and two in Penticton.