One week into the new school year, parents of French immersion kindergartners and Grade 1 pupils at Surrey's Cougar Creek Elementary have learned the program will be cancelled next year because of low enrolment. 

"We were all very shocked, every parent was," said Minesh Ramji, whose daughter is just starting French immersion kindergarten.

"We were told that this program had no reason to cancel months ago when we all signed up."

Ramji says his family was thrilled to win the so-called French immersion lottery last spring, which gave them the opportunity to pick any school for his daughter.

On the advice of the district, he says they chose Cougar Creek, located in the Newton neighbourhood.

17 students needed per class

But Surrey schools communication's manager Doug Strachan said the decision to cancel the program was made after only 13 students showed up for French immersion kindergarten on the first day of class, and another 13 for Grade 1. 

He says the minimum number of students needed to run a class is 17.

"To be clear, we had enough registrations in June but we don't know how many students we actually have until school starts," he said. "Parents decide at the last minute to register elsewhere."

"We're as frustrated as the parents who were committed to going."

Long wait list

Surrey launched the Cougar Creek French immersion program in the fall of 2016 to address growing demand across the district.

The wait list is over 200 names long, but even with a heavy promotional campaign it has not translated into enrolment at Cougar Creek.

Strachan says in light of next year's cancellation some students have already changed schools and programs. 

That's left Cougar Creek with just three French immersion kindergartners and seven French immersion Grade 1s who have now been combined into a single split class. 

Spots offered to 229 families

"We did flag this last year...that the ability to keep this program going has been tentative," Strachan said.

"When we launched the program...we phoned all 229 parents on the French immersion wait list and only six committed to going to Cougar Creek."

Strachan says the immersion students at Cougar Creek will be offered spots in other schools next year.

With files from Farrah Merali of CBC News