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Students on wait list after lottery for French immersion spots in Whitehorse

Despite adding a 5th kindergarten class for French immersion this fall in Whitehorse, 11 students are on a wait list after a lottery was used to fill spots.

38 students were entered in lottery, 11 students not selected are now on wait list

'Typically we'll be able to place those 11 kids in French immersion, just based on what we know about what the numbers in the past have been,' said Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Despite adding a fifth kindergarten class for French immersion this fall in Whitehorse, 11 students are on a wait list after a lottery was used to fill spots.

The issue of a lottery to enter French immersion was raised during Monday's question period in the Yukon Legislature.

"It seems a rather unfortunate approach for the minister to essentially make families enter a raffle when trying to determine the education for their children," said opposition Education critic Scott Kent.

French immersion kindergarten is offered at Whitehorse Elementary and Selkirk Elementary.

In an email to CBC, Department of Education spokesperson Kyle Nightingale says a second class was added to Selkirk for fall 2019.

The lottery was held for spaces at Whitehorse Elementary, which has room for 54 students in three French immersion kindergarten classes.

Priority is given to students who have an older sibling already enrolled in French immersion at the school and they were not entered in the draw, says Nightingale.

Thirty-eight students were entered in the lottery, he says.

The lottery was held for spaces at Whitehorse Elementary, which has room for 54 students in 3 French immersion kindergarten classes. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee told reporters after question period a lottery was held Feb. 18, one week after kindergarten pre-registration had opened.

She says the children not selected in the lottery may still be enrolled. 

"Typically we'll be able to place those 11 kids in French immersion, just based on what we know about what the numbers in the past have been," said McPhee.

"Some parents don't end up taking their spots, people move, there are all sorts of things that change over the next couple of months."

Nightingale says that if space opens up at either school, those spots will be offered to students on the waiting list.

He says the lottery system was first used in the 2015-2016 school year.

No expansion plans

Despite the apparent demand, McPhee says there are no plans to expand the French immersion program right now.

She cited limited classroom space and a lack of qualified French immersion teachers.

But Kent said during a briefing last week with department officials that he was told, "Yukon is doing pretty well in attracting and retaining French immersion teachers."

McPhee told reporters students are also able to enter the French immersion stream at grades 1 and 6.

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