Controversial changes to how French is taught in elementary schools were passed by trustees with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board on Tuesday night after a lengthy debate, and the trustees are defending their actions amid continued criticism.

There were seven votes for the changes and five against. 

Starting this fall, kindergarten classes for all students will be bilingual with 50 per cent of the instruction in French and 50 per cent in English. And in Grades 1 through 3, math instruction for students in French immersion will switch to English.

That means the plan expands French immersion to all children in junior and senior kindergarten from 20 minutes per day to 150 minutes. It also reduces the number of hours of French immersion from Grades 1 to 3 for children who stay with the program (from between 240 and 300 minutes per day to 180 minutes).

Trustees defend vote

On Wednesday morning, two trustees who voted in favour of the changes were guests on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning to talk about their decision.

Erica Braunovan OCDSB trustee French immersion changes Feb 9 2016

Trustee Erica Braunovan says the changes will help children who might otherwise not go into French immersion be better prepared to do so after kindergarten. (CBC News)

Erica Braunovan, the trustee for Somerset/Kitchissippi, told host Robyn Bresnahan she voted in favour of the changes in part because they'll make access to French immersion more equitable.

"I think the piece around equity was very important to me, that we have lower uptakes in the French immersion program for certain groups of students," she said.

"People coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, English language learners, students with disabilities, and male students ... take early French immersion and middle French immersion at lower rates than the rest of the population."

Donna Blackburn, the trustee for Barrhaven/Knoxdale–Merivale, said she's always been in favour of math instruction in English only.

Donna Blackburn OCDSB trustee Barrhaven Knoxdale Merival French immersion OMO Feb 17 2016

OCDSB trustee Donna Blackburn says the board's responsibility is to pass policies that benefit the greater good. (CBC News)

"The international language of math is English and I think that will be a great benefit to all our students," she said. "... A lot of the people that I've spoken to, who actually use math in their day-to-day life, think it's a good thing that we're teaching math in English."

Blackburn also criticized the media for focusing on vocal parents opposed to the changes.

"People who are for something don't show up to meetings," she said.

"Thousands of people filled out our survey ... and went back to doing homework with their kids and forgot about it. The people who are vehemently, vehemently against it came to meeting after meeting after meeting, and no matter what we said to them, they were going to be against it."

'They're going to create stress'

Some parents told the board they're concerned children in the affected grades will receive less instruction in French.

"I hope that both of my children will become bilingual because I believe learning French is a necessity in our city," said Jessica Shehan, who has a five-year-old in junior kindergarten at Elmdale Public School and a two-year-old.

"Why would a school board in Ottawa be cutting back on French instruction? This doesn't make sense to me. ... These proposed changes are unfair for JK and SK students. They're not acceptable in a bilingual city like Ottawa and they're going to create stress for our teachers and our students."

Paul Dillman, a father of French immersion students in grades 7, 10 and 12, said he was frustrated by a lack of consultation and what he called a rush to make the changes.

"One of the most distressing things that I have observed is the low regard in which the opinion and experience of teachers is received," Dillman said.

The changes were recommended as a result of Ontario's new two-year full-day kindergarten program.

A report suggests the changes could save the board $2.7 million. Some of that money will support children with special needs, the board said.