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Open Letter to Vancouver Parents; Teachers RE: Drastic Cuts to Popular French Immersion Program
May 24rd, 2017
To whom it may concern,
On May 9th, the CBC reported the Vancouver School Board was cutting one quarter of all Kindergarten French immersion spaces in the district, despite pre-existing waitlists of up to 140 students at some schools. Over time, this will result in the elimination of a quarter of Vancouver’s entire French Immersion program.
On behalf of Canadian Parents for French BC & YK, I would like to express our unequivocal support for the affected parents and teachers, provide a quick update, and outline a few next steps.
First, a bit of context.
Because of these cuts, 135 students in Vancouver will be denied the life-changing educational opportunity of learning both of Canada’s Official Languages. If these cuts remain in place over the next 13 years, roughly 1,300 young Vancouver students will be denied access to French immersion education. As far as we are concerned, this is simply not acceptable.
Languages are a gift, and knowledge is power. Studies show that Canadians who speak both French and English have a 2% lower unemployment rate, and earn, on average, 10% more than Canadians who only speak one Official Language. We also know that multilingualism helps youth develop their capacity for empathy, cross-cultural understanding, and open-mindedness. Finally, we know multilingual education improves cognitive development and delays conditions such as dementia. It is abundantly clear why no parent, and no language teacher, would ever want a child to be denied all of these wonderful life-changing benefits.
Vancouver’s Pre-Existing Conditions
Like many districts, Vancouver has two main entry points for French immersion, K/1 (Early French Immersion) and Grade 6 (Late French Immersion). Unfortunately, demand for both programs in Vancouver has outstripped capacity for a number of years. This has resulted in very long waitlists and in too many cases students being turned away. Here is a story from 2014 and one from 2015.
In practice, some parents with a child on a K/1 waitlist are accommodated as a handful of students may drop out from September to Christmas. Others have a “second chance” by applying for LFI in Grade 6. However it is still the case that a large number of families on waitlists for EFI or LFI will not find placement.
This will now be exacerbated by the elimination of five kindergarten entry points.
Update From Canadian Parents For French BC & YK
Since the decision was announced we have heard from dozens of concerned parents and teachers. Some have already spoken out through the media. Over 50 attended a meeting at the Trafalgar Elementary Library May 16th.
In response, Vancouver School Board Superintendent, Scott Robinson, invited representatives of Canadian Parents for French to meet to discuss the cuts and solutions moving forward. We had requested a representative of affected parents also attend, as well as the caretaker trustee Dianne Turner. An invitation was not extended to affected parents, nor was Trustee Turner able to attend.
Vancouver School Board Meeting (May 18th)
When the decision was announced, Vancouver School Board Director of Instruction, Adrian Keough, released this open letter to parents. As we have learned, there was no one reason the VSB decided to cut the EFI program. They claim it was a confluence of factors including: a space crunch resulting from changes to class size and composition contract language, challenges administering English registration at neighbourhood schools, and a shortage of French teachers.
During our meeting with Superintendent Robinson and Director of Instruction Keough, we learned a few things:
1. The VSB seems to be under significant pressure to accommodate English families at their local neighbourhood school. In our assessment, this is the primary consideration driving this decision. We conveyed our belief that this is a question to be resolved by a democratically elected board, not senior staff.
2. Even when space is available, they have not been responding to increased demand and French immersion waitlists. We were shocked to learn the new, very large, Crosstown Elementary school near Rogers Arena will not have a French immersion program. If capacity is the issue, why not open new FI programs when they have the chance and address the pent-up demand?
3. The district is challenged to find sufficient qualified French teachers and is actively recruiting. We recognize this is a challenge being felt by school districts across Canada. That said, we conveyed our belief that, given its enviable location and recent announcement by Universities Canada to increase teacher mobility from France, that teacher recruitment should be manageable.
4. We inquired about French teacher layoffs as a result of the 25% reduction of the EFI program. They conveyed their belief that there will be no need for teacher layoffs and that a “natural reduction” in French teacher workforce will take place through attrition and retirements.
Parents advocating for their children is how strong and popular programs, such as French immersion, have taken root over the past 40 years in Canada. It’s a battle, time and time again. However, by and large, parents have been successful.
The Vancouver School Board, however, is in a unique position in that it does not currently have a democratically elected Board of Trustees with a mandate from the residents of Vancouver. Nor is the caretaker Trustee accountable, in any real democratic sense, to the residents of Vancouver. A program elimination of this size would normally be carefully deliberated by Trustees, with ample opportunity for parental input. This has not happened. As far as we can tell this decision was made by senior staff and then communicated to parents. We believe this is a serious democratic deficit, and will make it all the more challenging to get this shortsighted decision overturned.
That said, parents need to step forward and speak out. That is the only way additional spaces will be created. Collective pressure from the community can still result in change.
Here is what you can do right now:
1. Forward this open letter to other parents or teachers you know.
2. Write a letter to Trustee Dianne Turner ([email protected]), and cc Superintendent Scott Robinson ([email protected]). Explain your situation and call on them to reverse the cuts.
3. Lobby your local PAC and DPAC to bring this forward ([email protected]).
4. Request to make a presentation to the District Education and Services Board Committee (Committee III). The committee’s next meeting is Wednesday May 31, 6:00pm – 7:00pm Room 180, Vancouver School Board Education Centre, 1580 West Broadway. More info.
5. Contact your local MLA/MP and ask for their support.
7. Request VSB Superintendent Scott Robinson ([email protected]) to host an information session for affected parents.
More meetings are being scheduled. We encourage you to contact Rowan Burdge here at our CPF BC & YK office if you would like to assist further ([email protected], 778.329.9115 ext 315).
Thank you for standing up for the best interests of your children.
Canadian Parents for French BC & Yukon
Canadian Parents for French BC & YK Branch
1555 W 7th Avenue, Suite 227
Vancouver, British Columbia V6J 1S1
Tel: (778) 329-9115 or 1 (800) 665-1222
Email: [email protected]