New Brunswick's largest francophone school district is struggling to cope with an influx of kindergarten students who don't speak French.
Anne-Marie LeBlanc, the superintendent of School District 1, which covers the francophone schools in Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John, said she doesn't know if the soaring enrolment of English-speaking students is fallout from the French immersion controversy in 2008.
Whatever the reason, she said the number of students who speak only English is at an all-time high.
"A lot of our students who do the pre-kindergarten testing don't have the fluency to be able to do that test in French at this point," LeBlanc said.
"And they are children of parents ayant droit and so they don't have that fluency. There is quite a number of them, of almost 25 per cent, of those students who must have that test done in English."
Ayant droit refers to children who have one parent who was schooled in French and enjoys protection under the constitution's minority language education clause and another parent who does not speak French. The constitution grants those children the right to attend a French school even if they are not fluent.
New Brunswick's education system has a policy of duality, which means the English and French systems are kept independent of each other.
The Education Department has set up a policy that outlines the schools where children can enrol. The official policy states that children can attend a school if they speak the language of that institution, both official languages or neither official language.
The only time a student can enrol in a school without meeting those guidelines is if they are an ayant droit.
A higher profile was given to the options available to parents who want their children to speak French after the province's controversial attempt to overhaul French second-language education.
When the province cut the early French immersion point in Grade 1, many experts said many parents would elect to send their children to francophone schools if they were covered by the constitution's minority language clause instead of waiting for the new Grade 3 immersion entry point.
The district superintendent said several francophone schools have kindergarten classes more than full of students who cannot speak French.
Roughly 60 per cent of the students attending kindergarten at Moncton's École Sainte-Bernadette speak English only.
And that percentage is even higher at Fredericton's École des Bâtisseurs.
LeBlanc said they've had to set up special immersion type classes for these children.
"In a school in Fredericton … there are whole classes of students who need francisation and so they're regrouped in a class and it's amazing in that model how fast those students acquire French," she said.
LeBlanc said while that takes away resources from the regular curriculum, it's a constitutional right and she has a duty to help these children retain their culture.
Once the children are able to participate in classes, LeBlanc said 94 per cent of the students who graduate from the district's schools meet the province's target for bilingualism.
The school district also offers special French courses for parents who struggle with the language so they can help their children with homework.