Victory for early French immersion

School Board reverses earlier decision and approves 2014 start for early French immersion in Chilliwack.

In a historic move, the Chilliwack Board of Education approved to start an early French immersion program at the earliest possible time, aiming for a September 2014 start date.

The decision comes after nearly two years of intense lobbying by the Chilliwack chapter of Canadian Parents for French.

Last month, EFI was rejected by the school board amidst concerns over funding. However, in an unexpected about-face, trustee Silvia Dyck – who voted against EFI in May – motioned to free up $600,000 from the reserve to fund the program. The motion carried 4–1.

Local parents were jubilant at the news, and unexpectedly surprised that the board discussed a start day of 2014.

“I’m excited, I’m ecstatic,” said local parent Travis Forstbauer, member of Canadian Parents for French. “They wanted our full support. Well, they do have our full support.”

Trustees Dyck, Martha Wiens, Heather Maahs, and Walt Krahn voted in favour of implementing EFI at the “earliest possible date subject to sufficient registration.” Trustee Barry Neufeld voted against, and trustee Doug McKay abstained, despite speaking against the motion at length Tuesday night.

“The purpose of the reserve fund is in case of a serious emergency, and I don’t see early French immersion qualifying as an emergency,” said Neufeld. “Although French immersion gives kids an additional advantage, I can’t see that it would improve the overall achievement of our students in this district…Our new premier is talking about a 10-year contract with the teachers. That’s going to be a long haul without any changes in funding. There’s too many uncertainties to support spending the last of our cushion.”

Enrollment in French immersion has been increasing over the past 15 years, even as regular enrollment declines, according to Kristy Peterson, the B.C./Yukon outreach officer for Canadian Parents for French. Chilliwack was one of three school districts in the province to offer a late French immersion program without the early start option.

The $600,000 reserve would fund only the first year of the program. However, trustee Maahs believes EFI will bring capital into the district.

“The bottom line is, once we get early French immersion up and running, it’s going to make us money. We’re going to draw students from other communities. It’s probably the best way of redistributing students. It’s the cheapest way to reallocate bodies to schools that have low enrollment. It’s basically a rebalancing…However we do it, we just need to do it,” she said.

Chilliwack parents said they have collected more than enough children for a full class of French immersion.

“We’re organized. We’ve found a lot of parents who want their kids to be in EFI. But we didn’t find everyone. There’s a lot of people out here that don’t even know about it,” said Forstbauer. “We’re a small network of parents, and we got enough kids for each year for four years. There’s a lot more kids out there.”

EFI would require two classrooms, and two new teachers, in its first year, with the addition of one classroom and one teacher every year for the duration of the five-year program.

The location for the program remains unclear. The district previously presented four options for sites. The first, and recommended by superintendent Evelyn Novak, is occupying portable classrooms at Cheam Elementary School. Pending provincial funding allocation, once one of the new schools is built in the Eastern Hillsides, EFI could be moved there.

Another option is to use available space at A.D. Rundle Middle school, which has seen declining enrollment. This would convert the middle school into a Kindergarten to Grade 9 institution.

The final option is repairing and re-purposing the old site of Rosedale Elementary, which has been closed since late 2011.

Forstbauer told the board of education in May that 12 of the 14 parents he consulted with would consider Cheam Elementary as their first or second choice, and would be willing to commute to the school for EFI.

The board of education has kept the $600,000 reserve minimum since Oct. 2005. With this amendment, there is no longer a stipulation to keep a reserve at all.

Just Posted

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
Student’s quote in Chilliwack high school yearbook equates graduation with end of slavery

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Alexis Paige Simpson has not been in contact with her family in two months. (RCMP photo)
Chilliwack RCMP looking for missing 20-year-old woman

Police say Alexis Paige Simpson has not been in contact with her family in two months

RCMP seek dash-cam footage after Chilliwack road rage incident

Male driving a black pickup stopped and allegedly threatened to punch another driver

Doses prepared at pop-up vaccine clinic in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood, in the M3N postal code, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. ( THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston)
4 vaccine clinics coming to Neighbourhood Learning Centre

Fraser Health made clinics ‘low-barrier’ meaning pre-registration not required

Deepak Sharma of Abbotsford has been convicted of the sexual assault of one of his cab passengers in West Vancouver in January 2019.
Former Abbotsford Hindu temple president convicted of sexual assault

Deepak Sharma assaulted a female passenger when he was a cab driver

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctors urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

Most Read