Changes to French immersion in WRDSB schools criticized by some involved in the process

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Administrators of the Waterloo Region District School Board are set to vote on changes to the way French immersion is delivered in its schools.

But the recommended changes, which will be voted on Monday evening, are criticized by some – including people who sat on a committee tasked with suggesting ways to make French immersion more equitable.

“I don’t think the three recommendations…in the report go far enough to address my concerns and what I’ve heard from other parents in the community,” Patricia Shaw, who served on the committee, told CBC News. .

Shaw said she wanted the administrators to open up the conversation to more parents.

“We hope administrators will see that parents deserve the opportunity to speak to the results of this committee’s work — before voting to change the name of access and equity,” Shaw said.

Council wants to improve access to the program

The school board began its current review of French immersion in 2017 when an ad hoc committee was formed to look at ways to improve the program and make it more equitable.

Currently, French Immersion is offered in some dual-track schools where some classes are French Immersion and others are students taking classes in English.

Three recommendations were made to trustees last week:

  • Approve the vision, goals and guiding principles that French Immersion is open to all.
  • Develop an “action plan” to align the program with the vision, goals and guiding principles.
  • Begin French Immersion in Grade 2 rather than Grade 1.

Starting French immersion in Grade 2 would give parents — especially parents whose first language is not English and who may not fully grasp the benefits of the French immersion program — more of a chance to speak to the program’s educators, Della Lataille-Herdsman, superintendent of student achievement and welfare, told administrators.

In addition, instruction in French would increase from 8% of the program to 16% of the program for all 1st year students.

If approved, the increase in French in Grade 1 will continue into fall 2023 and Grade 1 students in that year could apply in January 2024 to move to French Immersion in Grade 2.

Trustee is worried

At a June 20 board meeting, trustee Kathi Smith said many committee members — which included students, parents, teachers, board staff, trustees and members of the public – did not support the final recommendations.

“I am really concerned that we are moving forward when, as you know … there was no substantial difference between those in favor of the motion and those who are not in favor of it. the motion,” Smith said.

Smith, who has been on this French immersion committee since its inception in 2017, called on the board to hold a special meeting to hear from more people on the issue.

“I’m just concerned about the number of people who are not in favor of this and the staff who have to move forward with French immersion, having people who are going to protest, including, unfortunately, some of our employees. “

Recommendations don’t go far enough: parent

Mandi Bond said her child was advised to leave French immersion when he was having learning problems.

In the five years she’s been on the committee, Bond said, there have been many thoughtful conversations and creative suggestions about ways to change the program to make it more accessible to more people.

At this point, however, she doesn’t think the committee has really been able to address the issue of equitable access to the program.

“I am not trying to change the program to be better for my children. I am speaking here so that no family has to go through what we have done and to imagine a system that meets the vision that each child has access.”

Shaw, who joined the committee in 2021, said transportation needed to be addressed. Ideally, all students who want to take French immersion classes would be bussed to a school, she said.

“If you are out of bounds for a French immersion school, you can still apply to attend the French immersion school through the lottery system and if accepted, you must provide your own transportation to get there. at this school,” she said of the current situation.

“Having a parent available to get to and from school is probably not an option for a lot of people.”

Trustees and staff of the Waterloo Region District School Board meet on June 20. They discuss proposed changes to the French immersion program and approve staff recommendations. A vote to ratify the decision is expected Monday evening. (Waterloo Region District School Board/YouTube)

“A plan to make a plan”

The committee’s recommendations are on the agenda for Monday evening’s board meeting and directors will be asked to vote to ratify the decision they made a week earlier at a committee meeting.

Trustees and board staff agreed at last week’s meeting that more work needs to be done to make French immersion more equitable.

There are three delegations registered to speak on this issue at Monday evening’s meeting, including Shaw and Bond.

Shaw said she wanted the committee restarted so work could continue.

“We should have a roadmap to fairness. If transport is too big a problem to solve right now – and personally I don’t think it is – but if it is too big a problem, “When are we going to solve it? What goal do we want? Do we want every child to have access to French immersion? And if so, in what year?” said Shaw.

“We didn’t make a plan. We just made a plan to make a plan. So that’s where my frustration lies.”

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