After years of information gathering by parents to meet district requirements to introduce late French immersion at Signal Hill Elementary in Pemberton in September 2011, the Sea to Sky School Board (SD48) has delayed making a decision and is taking a second look at the issue.
The board received evidence of support for the programming from the Signal Hill Parent Advisory Council (PAC), the School Planning Council and the District Advisory Parent Council (DPAC) at a meeting on Wednesday, March 9, but it was the impassioned plea from some teachers against the program that hindered the progress of the motion.
"The board considered the proposal that was prepared consistent with district policy on choice and one particular part in that district policy had to do with school culture, the impact of the program of choice on the culture of the school and they felt that they wanted to hear more from the staff of the school and from the public prior to reconsidering their motion," said SD48 superintendent Dr. Rick Erickson.
The school board also wants to organize meetings in the First Nations catchments, consult with the staff and have a public community meeting.
Signal Hill has received thirty-four applicants for the proposed late French program, four of whom are First Nations. According to Erickson, teachers have raised concerns that the immersion program would divide the student body and undo an established cultural balance in classrooms. Approximately 11 of 30 teachers oppose the introduction of the program.
"I think that we can all appreciate how much they care about the students, I think that obviously showed but to the point of raw emotion rather than objective, scientific fact," said DPAC chair Cathy Jewett.
"They say they want to look at the options of another program - well, the school board has given criteria to the parents who would like to see French immersion at Signal Hill, they followed that criteria and to have something like this come in at the eleventh hour with no specifics is disappointing to say the least."
Jewett is worried that delaying the decision could create difficulties for the implementation of the program should the board approve it in April. She said even if the proposal is defeated for next September, Signal Hill parents will continue to push for the programming the following year.
"If it is voted down again it is voted down for next fall," she said. "That means they can re-open registration next year and given the strength of the registration it's quite possible that they will end up with more students than they can handle, rather than ramping up the student body gradually they might get slammed."
Parents who support the introduction of late French immersion in Pemberton worry that their children aren't receiving equal access to programs that students in the rest of the district. Unlike early French immersion, which starts in Kindergarten late French immersion is introduced in grade five, six and seven.