British Columbia

French advocacy group says VSB broke its commitment for 2018 programming

Despite its promises made before the October byelection, the VSB won't be able to restore spaces to French language programs, according to a recent report.

Canadian Parents for French says trustees ran on platform to restore spaces in 2018

A recent VSB staff report points to the Supreme Court decision regarding teachers' bargaining rights, as well as the affordability crisis, as reasons for a lack of teachers and space to accommodate restoring French immersion spaces in Vancouver. (Shutterstock)

The recently elected Vancouver School Board is falling short on its commitment to reverse recent cuts to French language spaces, according to a French language advocacy group.

During the October byelection, the local chapter of Canadian Parents for French (CPF) asked each VSB candidate if they would reverse a decision in which 135 kindergarten French spaces were cut in May.

"These trustees made a commitment to voters in the last election and we're saying you should be doing everything in your powers to live up to your commitment and we're not seeing that," Glyn Lewis told the host of CBC's The Early Edition, Stephen Quinn.

Not enough space or teachers

The CPF said every elected individual committed to restoring spaces in the lead-up to the election but nothing has been done even as the early February deadline for applications approaches.

In December, a school board staff report concluded that a reversal of the May cuts would not be immediately possible.

It outlined two major barriers to reinstating the spaces, citing a consequence of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling on teachers' rights to negotiate contracts based on class size and composition meant there would not be enough space for French programming in existing facilities.

The report also cited a teacher shortage, which is being felt province-wide and is particularly problematic in Vancouver, where the cost of living is a barrier for would-be hires to move to the city.

Those challenges, said Lewis, haven't changed since the board members were running for election and he believes the commitment to reinstating the spaces shouldn't change either.

He said the issue of finding space for French programming in classrooms is a non-issue because those students are already in classrooms in the district.

"Where I empathise with them a bit more is on the teacher shortage. Vancouver is in a unique situation because of the high cost of living," Lewis said.

Actively recruiting

School board chair, Janet Fraser, said she supports returning French spaces to previous levels but the challenges outlined in the staff report are too prohibitive.

"It's really a challenge here. As a trustee I want to do all these good things and there are so many constraints in the system that it's really challenging," she said.

According to Fraser, the number of part-time and full-time vacancies is much higher this year, at seven, than previous years and Fraser said teachers are leaving the city for more affordable districts.

"We're doing a lot more than just posting the positions and waiting for people to apply," said Fraser, adding the VSB has been reaching out to new graduates and sending recruitment staff to other provinces.

There are currently 400 students on the wait list for placement into VSB French programs compared to about 300 in 2016, according to the VSB.

A full review of the French language program as well as a review of all choice programs in Vancouver are expected sometime this year.

According to the December staff report, if both reviews are completed on time changes could come for the 2019-2020 school year.