New Brunswick

Public meetings scheduled for families affected by French immersion changes

Meetings starting Wednesdsay night in Anglophone School District South will give parents the opportunity to discuss the decision to return provincial French Immersion programs to Grade 1 in the next school year.

Change back to Grade 1 entry ignites fears of 'havoc and chaos,' says Progressive Conservative MLA

French Language Services Commissioner Francois Boileau said if nothing is done to address the issue, Ontario's francophone demographic may decrease to the point where it becomes insignificant. (Canadian Parents for French)

Meetings start Wednesday night in the Anglophone School District South to discuss the return of provincial French immersion programs to a Grade 1 start.

The change will come into effect in September 2017, leaving many parents with questions about logistics.

"This is a big change," said Anglophone South School District superintendent Zoe Watson.

Currently, 625 students are enrolled in the district's Grade 3 program, making it a "popular" one, she said.

The entry point for French immersion was changed from Grade 1 to Grade 3 in 2008 after the former Shawn Graham government tried — and failed — to scrap early immersion. In April 2014, Premier Brian Gallant announced his intention to change back to the Grade 1 entry point.

Earlier this fall, it was announced the change would roll out in September 2017.

Zoe Watson is the superintendent of Anglophone School District South. 8:14

'Complex' situation

The meetings, which will be held in several locations this month, will include information already available via the Anglophone South School District and Department of Education, as well as a PowerPoint presentation outlining how the changes will unfold.

This year presents an unusually "complex" situation, said Watson, since next fall marks not only the return of Grade 1 French immersion but also the continuation of the Grade 3 entry point for both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years.

The entry point for French Immersion was changed from Grade 1 to Grade 3 in 2008 after the former Shawn Graham government tried - and failed - to scrap early French immersion. In April 2014, Premier Brian Gallant announced his intention to change back to the Grade 1 entry point. (CBC)

"We have students now who are in Grade 1 and 2 who need the opportunity to have an early immersion experience," Watson said. "So, for the next two years, we will have both programs running."

After that, the program will be scaled back to a Grade 1 entry only.

The meetings will also provide parents of Grade 5 students with  information on late French immersion.

As of now, Watson said, it appears the same schools will be offering Grade 1 French immersion as before the change in 2008.

The district, however, works under Policy 309, the provincial second-language policy. Section 6 of the policy states that the program must be offered in locations with "sufficient interest."

 "When any large-scale change comes in ... we are a large system, and it does cause anxiety."- Zoe Watson, Anglophone South School District Superintendent 

That way, French immersion and regular curriculum classes will, in theory, remain proportional in size.

"We wouldn't be able to have six or five children in French immersion, and an English classroom filled with 21 students," said Watson, adding that the logistics still have to be worked out.

Push for qualified teachers

As with all curriculum changes, many of the details are being handled by the Department of Education, Watson said.

One of the immediate needs will be for qualified teachers.

It can be a "struggle," Watson said, to find instructors qualified to teach French immersion, since they need both superior French and training in teaching a second language.

Anglophone South School District superintendent Zoe Watson says information sessions being held throughout the province this month are designed to address parents concerns. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Another concern — raised by Progressive Conservative MLA and former education minister Jody Carr on social media — is that the alleged lack of consultation with schools and teachers will result in mass confusion.

Watson takes a less dire view.

"We know the department will be finding out what resources we need," Watson said.

The Anglophone South School District will be given two additional French second-language subject co-ordinators to help smooth the transition.

Crowds, questions anticipated

She said she's heard some concerns voiced about the plan. 

"People are concerned about resources and about teaching positions," Watson said. "It has an impact, whether it's this, or any other change we've experienced with education."

She said the early meetings starting this week are a "good thing," in that they'll assist with hammering out the student numbers and allow the district to "move forward with finding our teachers."

Watson said the information sessions are designed to address parent's concerns.

"We are expecting crowds and lots of questions," she said. "When any large-scale change comes in ... we are a large system, and it does cause anxiety."

Parents in the Anglophone School District South are invited to local sessions to hear what changes to the early immersion entry point will mean for their kids. A full list of the times and locations can be found on the Anglophone South School District's website. 

with files from Information Morning Saint John

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