British Columbia

Haida Gwaii doctor selling practice after daughter's French immersion program pulled

A doctor on Haida Gwaii, B.C. says she's closing her practice and moving from the islands because the only French immersion program available for her daughter has been cancelled.

'I have to do what's right for my daughter'

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

A doctor on Haida Gwaii, B.C. says she's closing her practice and moving from the islands because the only French immersion program available for her daughter has been cancelled.

Dr. Andrea Willhelm said she and her family decided to relocate so her daughter can access "the same educational opportunities" offered elsewhere in Canada.

"I loved my job and I loved my patients," she told CBC News. "It's a difficult choice but I have to do what's right for my daughter."

Closure announced in 2016

Last year, her local school district notified parents that the French Immersion program at Sk'aadgaa Naay Elementary wouldn't be taking new students for the fall of 2017, citing a lack of enrolment.

Parents pushed administrators to keep the program but to no avail.

Shani Gottfriedson, whose daughter is in French immersion, said politicians were pressured to intervene but that didn't work and left the parents feeling ignored.

"I have no faith that they know how to act in our children's best interests anymore," Gottfriedson, who is Haida, said. "They made it very clear that the focus [at school] is to be Haida. I think that's great — I think we need to acknowledge our culture and our history, but not at the expense of our kids' education.

"They're throwing it away."

School board declines comment

Willhelm said she wouldn't be surprised if more families moved out of the area to access bilingual programs.

"When you have a school system or board that is no longer interested in offering opportunities ... then you lose a lot of people who want those opportunities for their children."

The doctor said her practice will close in May, around the same time the French immersion program will end.

Neither the board trustees or the superintendent from the school district responded to CBC's requests for comment.

To hear the full interview click on the audio labeled 'Doctor says she'll leave Haida Gwaii if French immersion program removed.'

With files from CBC's Daybreak North

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