British Columbia

B.C. parents voice concern over lack of French immersion distance learning options

Some parents in B.C. are worried about the lack of distance learning options for the province’s 54,000 French immersion students, should they decide to home-school because of COVID-19 concerns.

Parents worry they'll lose children's immersion placements if they decide to home-school due to COVID-19

Many parents across B.C. are worried about the lack of distance learning options for the province's 54,000 French immersion students, should they decide to home-school come September. (CBC)

Lisa Christensen has chosen to home-school her 11-year-old diabetic daughter this fall, while other B.C. families prepare to send their children back to school.

"We decided it would be safest ... she's a little higher risk than most kids," said Christensen, who lives in Courtenay, B.C., with her family. 

But she's concerned that her daughter, who's been in French immersion at Ecole Puntledge Park since kindergarten, won't be able to return to the program once the pandemic has ended, because she'll likely fall behind in French while being home-schooled.

"If you're not a French-speaking family, it could be very difficult to help your child through," said Christensen, noting she's "intimidated by the idea of having to support her [daughter]." 

Instead, she has enrolled her in an English-language online program, based in Powell River, while paying extra for a French tutor.

Christensen's concerns echo those of many parents across B.C. who are worried about the lack of distance learning options for the province's 54,000 French immersion students, should they decide to home-school come September.

They're now calling on the provincial government to work with school districts to implement proper online learning options that will ensure students' language skills are up to speed when they return to a physical classroom. 

Lisa Christensen says she may have trouble getting her daughter back into French immersion after deciding to home-school her this fall, due to anxieties around COVID-19. (Submitted/Lisa Christensen)

'An issue exacerbated by COVID-19'

A statement from the B.C. Ministry of Education says it is "actively reaching out to school districts to gain an understanding of what's being planned for French immersion programs" and has been working with "education partners to find creative solutions" that keep students connected to their school.

"We expect districts will be factoring their students enrolled in French immersion programs when they are making their plans," it says.

Glyn Lewis, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon chapter of Canadian Parents for French, says he's received over 100 emails from parents in the last two weeks about an educational issue that dates back more than 15 years, and is being exacerbated by COVID-19.

"There are a considerable number of families who are looking for remote or distanced learning and those options just aren't available to them right now," he said. 

Lewis said many families complained their children might lose their immersion placements, which are competitive to secure, after having to de-register from French immersion in order to be home-schooled in a different program.

He noted that the "entry point" grades — kindergarten to Grade 2 — will be the hardest to get back into. 

Comox Valley votes to freeze placement list

A statement from the Comox Valley School District says at a meeting last week trustees "passed the motion unanimously to reserve placement for students that leave their … choice program" if they opt for another mode of instruction. 

Mary Lee, the district's communications manager, said she believes it's one of the few districts to freeze the placement list, and that other districts have been contacting them for information. 

On the south Island, the Greater Victoria School District is still working out its options, and held a special board of education meeting Monday to debate whether to ask the province for "full funding and flexibility to create an online learning hub" so students can stay connected to their schools.

'Freeze all B.C. student placements' 

Katie Clunn, a mother of two French immersion students in Maple Ridge, recently began an online petition calling on the government to require all school districts to freeze placement lists, for not only French immersion students, but for Montessori, outdoor, year-round, and other choice programs. 

She said her school district is devising a "French enrichment" program, where teachers would meet with students once a week and assign French homework, "but it's nowhere near enough to keep our children up to speed with their peers" if they need to be re-assessed to get back into school. 

Clunn is now spending "insane money" — up to $70 per hour — for a French tutor.