British Columbia

Vancouver cuts French immersion kindergarten spaces

Despite high demand and growing wait lists for French immersion programs, the VSB is cutting French immersion spaces for kindergarteners by nearly one third.

Supreme Court of Canada ruling requiring smaller classes means 135 fewer kindergarten French Immersion spots

There will be about one-third fewer spaces for Vancouver kindergarteners to enter high-demand French Immersion programs next year, the school board says. (bionicteaching via photopin cc)

Despite high demand and growing wait-lists for French immersion programs, the Vancouver School Board is cutting French immersion spaces for kindergarten students by nearly one quarter in the coming school year.

The decision comes as a result of the surprise Supreme Court of Canada ruling last fall that requires smaller class sizes in B.C. schools and ended the longstanding dispute between B.C. teachers and the provincial government.

The school district said it's committed to French immersion, but the ruling means it doesn't have the classroom space or qualified teachers to start as many kindergarteners in French Immersion as it did this year.

"It wasn't an easy decision," said Adrian Keough, a director of instruction at the school board.

"We don't really have a lot of choice."

Across the district, there will be about 135 fewer spaces for kindergarteners, compared to last year's total of 510 spaces. Five schools will lose one class each:

  • Trafalgar Elementary.
  • Lord Selkirk Elementary.
  • Hastings Elementary.
  • Lord Tennyson Elementary.
  • L'École Bilingue Elementary.

The school district initially said six classes would be cut, including one at Jules Quesnel.

But that information was later corrected.

While the change just affects kindergarten — children at higher grades will be able to stay in the French immersion stream — it means even tougher competition for Vancouver parents vying to get their kids into the high-demand program.

'Doesn't make sense' says parent

Before these changes, there were already lotteries and wait lists to get a coveted kindergarten spot in French immersion.

Endre Koszec's daughter missed out on their closest school this year, L'Ecole Bilingue, but was lucky enough to get into French immersion at the family's third choice, Trafalgar.

With kindergarten French immersion at that school now cut from 44 spots to 20 as a result of the court ruling, he's worried his younger child won't be able to get in a year from now.

"We understand something has to be done," said Koszec. "But this doesn't seem like the right thing to do."

"It doesn't make sense to me to take capacity out of the French Immersion system when that's what parents are indicating they want."

Koszec wants his kids in French immersion, so they can be challenged to learn another language and benefit from the "view into another culture."

Demand for French immersion is actually a bit lower this year than last, said the school board, but wait lists are still longer because of the cuts.

Demand for French immersion programs 'plateaued' in Vancouver this year, but parents still face wait-lists to get their kids in the coveted spots. (Canadian Parents for French)

'Surprise' ruling a challenge

Smaller class sizes and other changes as a result of the Supreme Court ruling are good for teaching and learning, said the school district's Keough.

But it has meant a scramble to adjust, not just in Vancouver but throughout B.C.

With smaller classes, a school needs more of them to accommodate the same number of students.

Returning students get priority over new students, and English education gets priority over French in the B.C. School Act, the school board wrote in a letter to parents.

That means French immersion in kindergarten — which sets the path for a child's educational career — has been squeezed.

"This really came as a surprise this year," said Keough.

"As pleased as educators and families and teachers are with the ruling, it ended up causing an additional struggle or challenge for us."

Keough said the district wants the French immersion to grow again, but there's no easy fix.

"We do hope that down the road more students can join the program at a later point."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said that 150 spaces and six kindergarten classes were being cut, including one at Jules Quesnel, based on information provided by the Vancouver School Board. The school board later corrected their information to say only five classes would be cut and the list did not include Jules Quesnel.
    May 15, 2017 9:35 AM PT

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