Earlier this year, Cendra Beaton began to notice a troubling trend.
Families who were hoping to enrol their children in the Sooke School District’s French immersion programs were being put on wait lists as most of them were full. Online there was a lot of buzz from parents trying to find out who was wait listed or turned down.
“We started speaking with those parents to try and figure out what the situation is and how it’s working out,” said Beaton, a local French immersion parent and member of the Canadian Parents for French British Columbia and Yukon Sooke district chapter.
“It got us thinking and reaching out to the district.”
Now, the local chapter is calling on the school district to address the problem of overcrowding in French immersion programs and provide spaces before wait list numbers increase.
According to an open letter from the chapter that was sent to SD62 and a number of other individuals, Ecole John Stubbs will reach its student capacity by September, meaning there will be limited space for kindergarten in the single track French immersion school.
Ecole Millstream is nearly at capacity with portables already on site.
“French immersion programs in SD62 are starting to be overcrowded and the demand continues to increase for access at a greater rate than the overall student growth,” said the letter. “This to us clearly demonstrates the need for additional space for our French immersion program.”
Enrolment for French immersion programs is on a first-come, first-served basis. Parents who are put on wait lists stay on it until they hear if a school can accommodate them. If not, the child defaults to the English program that they’re in the catchment for.
There are 25 students on the wait list for Ecole John Stubbs and there are 158 students registered for French immersion kindergarten.
With enrolment increasing, the chapter hopes the district will address the problem in a number of ways.
In December, the province announced it would be contributing $23.3 million towards the purchase of a 6.5 hectare (16 acre) site in Langford for the district to build an elementary and middle school.
The chapter hopes French immersion spaces will potentially be added to the two new schools to help expand the program and relieve the pressures on existing schools.
It also hopes the district will consider adding portables to John Stubbs until more spaces can be made available, and implementing hiring practices that prioritizes the hiring of French immersion teachers.
“These students will have to be in a classroom regardless of what program they’re in so can we figure out a way to allow them to be in a program that their parents want?” Beaton said, adding she hopes other parents will reach out to the chapter so it can get a better understanding of how many people are on wait lists.
“Space is just a matter of putting the puzzle pieces together. They’re going to be in a school regardless.”
SD62 assistant superintendent Stephanie Hedley-Smith said the district is continuing to juggle the issue of increased enrolment as schools approach capacity.
“We knew French immersion enrolment was increasing. It is a juggle for us as our schools are approaching capacity. If there is physical classroom space in a school to make another class we do everything we can to do so,” she said.
“At present, we have wait listed in-district families with the hope that we can accommodate their request. While we would love to have the classroom space to accommodate for more, our first priority is students and families who live in our school district.”