A group of parents at South Park Family Elementary School in downtown Victoria are furious in response to School District 61’s decision this week to remove late entry French immersion from Central Middle School.
The district confirmed the decision with the public on Friday after sharing the decision with schools and teachers on Thursday.
Central Middle School has long been a dual track school for English and French immersion students and was one of three schools to offer late entry French immersion to Grade 6 students. It’s also been “bursting at the seams for years,” said SD61 spokesperson Lisa McPhail, explaining the change.
“Central has reached its building’s capacity for student enrolment and will do so again next year with the incoming catchment Grade 6 students,” said a district letter shared by McPhail on Friday. “As a result, the availability of a late French immersion at Central would restrict access for next year’s catchment students.”
McPhail added that Central has enough English track students in its catchment that it can’t take on another class of late French immersion. The students who are currently in Central’s late French immersion program will see the program through at Central.
Instead, late French immersion for Grade 6 students will continue to be offered at Arbutus and Lansdowne middle schools in 2019-2o while the Central offering will be relocated to Shoreline Middle School in View Royal. The district’s annual parent information meeting for late French immersion is on Monday, Jan. 14, 6:30 p.m. at Richmond Elementary.
For some parents, the move from Central to Shoreline kills a plan that’s been in the works for years. Jeremy Caradonna, a parent with children in Grades 2 and 4 at South Park, said many of the parents whose children attend South Park, and who do actually live in the Central catchment, have long planned to enrol their kids in the late French immersion.
“A lot of our families have planned our future several years in advance, based on where we live, you can’t change this at the last minute, this is totally unfair to us,” Caradonna said. “I’m super upset about it, my assumption is this isn’t a done deal, and I’ll be voicing my concerns.”
The Caradonna family originally chose South Park – an English only school of choice with a district-wide catchment – for its nature kindergarten (which is no longer offered) rather than attending their catchment school, George Jay Elementary – with the long term understanding their daughters would start French in Grade 6 at Central.
In the meantime, Central will continue to offer dual track, as those currently enrolled in French immersion at their catchment school of Sir James Douglas will have the ability to transfer to Central Middle School. The same will go for George Jay Elementary, which is in its fourth year of French immersion (meaning its first cohort of French immersion students are two-and-a-half years away from attending Central) and is part of the Central and Vic High family of schools.
Jenn Turnbull-Aherne is also a parent of South Park students. Her oldest daughter went through South Park and is in Grade 7 at Central, her second year of late French immersion at Central. Turnbull-Aherne also has a daughter in Grade 2 at South Park and a son set to begin at South Park in 2020.
“This certainly changes things for my family,” she said. “I wanted the youngest two in the same school, but if late French isn’t an option, should I just put my youngest into French immersion at his catchment school, or have him in the same school as his sister [at South Park] for the only two years they’d be together, which we also wanted. It’s a lot to ponder.”
Even for catchment parents, getting into Central’s late French program had no guarantees at its a program of choice, meaning it is open to students district-wide.
SD61 has the highest provincial participation rate in French immersion, it said.