British Columbia

Vancouver students falsely labelled English language learners

A south Vancouver school is being accused of falsely inflating the number of English language learning students in its classrooms to get more funding from the province.

Sir Sandford Fleming Elementary designated entire Kindergarten class ELL

Students falsely labelled as ELL

8 years ago
Duration 2:43
Sir Sandford Fleming designated entire class as English learners

A south Vancouver school is being accused of falsely inflating the number of English language learning students in its classrooms to get more funding from the province.

Sarah Perrin's five-year-old daughter Krystina entered Sir Sandford Fleming Elementary in September, and was labelled an ELL student despite the fact she speaks perfect English.

Perrin suspects it is because Krystina has her father's Mexican-sounding last name. "I feel it's racial profiling for funding," said Perrin.

ELL — formerly known as ESL, or "English as a Second Language" — usually applies to school-age students, whose primary language is not English and who require extra help learning it.

ELL students are eligible for additional provincial funding from the B.C. Ministry of Education, which pays more than $1,000 per year for each student for a maximum of five years. 

That money goes to the students' schools for extra staff and resources, thus  the more ELL students a school has, the more money it gets from the province.

As it turns out, Perrin's daughter was not the only native-English speaker falsely labelled ELL at Sir Sandford Fleming. CBC News has learned all 20 students in her kindergarten class received the same designation.

Parents feel betrayed

To make matters worse, the school violated provincial guidelines by failing to inform the students' parents their children were labelled ELL.

Many parents only found out when they read the fine print on their children's report cards, urging them to "practice speaking English" at home.

"I felt like I'd kind of been betrayed. I had no knowledge of this. I felt it was an extremely huge waste of resources since English is our first language," said Perrin.

Trustee calls for investigation

Vancouver School Board trustee Ken Denike says misrepresenting the number of ELL students in a classroom is tantamount to fraud.

He's calling for an investigation into Sir Sandford Fleming's ELL levels, and ELL programs in the district.

"It needs to be looked into. ... It really challenges the oversight that the board should be taking," said Denike.

"I don't know how far this practice goes. We may be focusing on one particular school when it's wider than that."

Statistics obtained by CBC News show that while Sir Sandford Fleming claims 51.4 per cent of its students are ELL, nearby Walter Moberly Elementary says it has 59 per cent, and Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary claims it has 63 per cent.

It is possible these numbers reflect the true non-anglophone populations attending the schools.

Series of staff mistakes

The Vancouver School Board says it believes improper labelling of students at Sir Sandford Fleming was due to a series of staff mistakes, and it is working on fixing the problem. 

"We're even going to be talking to all of our principals to make sure that everybody is completely clear about the procedures around this sort of thing, because we really don't want this to happen again," said spokesperson Kurt Heinrich.

On Thursday, B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he believes the school board investigation is "appropriate" and that he will wait for the full report before deciding if any action is required by the province.

"I am absolutely wanting to make sure that tax dollars are used appropriately," said Fassbender.

"I know the Vancouver School Board is concerned and I'm going to work with them to make sure that this does not continue. And if there are any other cases where there has been some misappropriation we're going to deal with that as well."

Fassbender said it is "unfortunate if there has been a misrepresentation of a particular students requirements and the fact that the parents haven't been involved in that discussion." 

Meanwhile, Krystina is no longer being labelled as ELL and her mother is looking into moving her to another school.

"I've lost complete trust in the school. I don't believe that school has my child's best interest at heart, and that's sad. That's so sad," she said.

With files from CBC's Eric Rankin


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