Haida Gwaii school district to phase out French immersion

Sk'aadgaa Naay Elementary School is currently home to Haida Gwaii's only French immersion program, but now it is being phased out due to declining enrolment.

Those currently enrolled will continue in French but no new students will be accepted next school year

Sk'aadgaa Naay Elementary is home to Haida Gwaii's only French immersion program.

Parents on Haida Gwaii are upset by the news that the only French immersion program on the northern B.C. archipelago has been canceled due to dwindling enrolment.

Sk'aadgaa Naay Elementary is a kindergarten to Grade 7 school in Skidegate. Its French immersion program currently serves less than 20 of the school's 140 students.

The school was planning to enrol a new cohort of between 20 and 25 students in September, but in a letter sent to parents on May 31, the school district announced it would not be accepting new students into the program.

Parents upset

Andrea Wilhelm was hoping to put her daughter in French this fall. She wrote a letter to the board's trustees asking that they reconsider, saying the change is in violation of the district's policies.

"We are a small school district, but I think that that shouldn't affect the programs that our children have access to," Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm said declining enrolment is not an adequate explanation for the cancellation, especially given the popularity of the program. She said the program brings money into the school because of the government funding it receives.

Elizabeth Condrotte, chair of the School District No. 50 board, declined to comment ahead of a meeting to discuss the situation with parents next week. However, she confirmed that the cancellation was not due to lack of enrolment in the program itself, but rather the district as a whole.

Immersion program receives instruction in Haida

Wilhelm said immersion programs have a number of benefits for students, including increased ability to learn a third language. In a letter to the school board, Wilhelm's husband Peter Lake said cancellation of the program would negatively affect the school's Haida language program as well.

In the Sk'aadgaa Naay immersion program students receive instruction in Haida — the local First Nations language — four days a week. Students in the regular stream only receive a day and a half of Haida instruction.

The Council of the Haida Nation was contacted for comment, but was not able to make anyone available by press time.

With files from CBC's Daybreak North.