School board votes to phase out French immersion program at Kitsilano school
Henry Hudson Elementary is over capacity, according to the Vancouver School Board
The French immersion program at Henry Hudson Elementary School is being phased out.
On Monday night, Vancouver School Board (VSB) trustees voted on a motion to slowly drop the program over the next eight years. This fall's kindergarten class will be the last to accept enrolment.
Parents and students, many dressed in bright red school sweatshirts, packed the school board meeting hoping to save the program.
Jody Bielun has a daughter enrolled in Grade 2 at Henry Hudson and a young son who has yet to begin school — so, after Monday's vote, he won't get the chance to be in French immersion at the same school as his older sister, she said.
"He's going to have to go into English if we want to stay in this school or we're going to have to break up our whole community," said Bielun, who was visibly emotional after the meeting.
"Your school is your rock. You set up your life around it."
Even parents whose children are already in the program were unhappy with the vote, saying it leaves the existing system on shaky ground.
"By dismantling it, slowly by surely, piece by piece ... now families have to make the decision, 'Do we stay knowing the program isn't stable?'" said Catherine Campolin, who has a son in Grade 5 at Henry Hudson as well as an older daughter who went through the program.
"It won't feel safe for anybody ... it's really sad."
Josh Paterson sits on the school's advisory council and said the time leading up to the vote has been stressful for families.
"Some parents have had to think carefully about whether or not they should be looking at other schools, which threatens the existing program here and creates a stress in their life," Paterson added during an interview Friday.
The phase-out was one of several options recommended in a recent report to deal with the school being over capacity. There is not enough classroom space to accommodate the English program as well as French immersion.
There are many families that get turned away every year.- Glyn Lewis, Canadian Parents for French
Adrian Keough, director of instruction for the VSB, said under the School Act of B.C., the board must provide education in English as a priority.
"We're at a point now where we cannot continue to enrol French immersion and accept all of the English students who want to take the English program in that school," Keough said.
"We've taken away the staff room, we've taken away computer rooms, we've added portables, all trying to mitigate the situation," he said.
Keough said the school board remains committed to French immersion and added about 100 seats across the district last year.
High demand for French immersion
Glyn Lewis, B.C.'s executive director of Canadian Parents for French, said accessibility of French immersion is already a major issue, especially in downtown Vancouver and Kitsilano.
"To cut a French immersion program in a neighbourhood, in a part of the city where there's already very long wait lists, makes no sense," Lewis said Friday.
"There are many families that get turned away every year," he said.
Originally, the report recommended moving the seats to Lord Strathcona Elementary School in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
However, feedback indicated that "very few" parents at Hudson would choose to enrol their children at Strathcona as an alternative due to an additional 25- to 35-minute commute.
With files from Meera Bains and Noémie Moukanda