Sunday, January 24, 2010

Please don't segregate my child

The challenges facing our schools in Prince George are stunning. With demographic change, declining enrollment, transfer of provincial burdens, and spending of money on new school construction and facelifts, we are short $7 million. Sadly, there will be layoffs and cutbacks throughout the district. Shrinking schools, many of which are below 30% capacity, face "right-sizing" (as the superintendent put it). Rural students will face long commutes in exchange for a sustainable school with a range of services and programs. I completely get this; the district, due to past decisions and current economic crunches, has to cut programs that are not sustainable and look for ways to trim the fat off its self-admittedly top-heavy infrastructure (p 41 of the Sustainability Report).

The part that confuses me is why viable and successful programs have to be eliminated at the same time.

We have four successful dual-track French immersion schools in Prince George (English and French classes side-by-side). We've enrolled our daughter in one of these so she could learn French and reflect our vision of what it means to be an inclusive English Canadian in a bilingual nation scarred by separatism and racism. We have to drive her there (10 minutes each way), but it’s a school grounded in and reflective of its neighbourhood, the kind of place where English and French have a legacy of mutual understanding reinforced from kindergarten to Grade 7. We are very proud of our school and want to be involved with the school's success.

The district is proposing the idea of a segregated school where all the French Immersion students in our district would attend, no other options. The intended school needs expensive and extensive renovations to be ready for this, and the timeline is set for September 2010 (allowing two summer months for renos). It will likely require portables to house 650 students (it was designed for 450) or they'll simply have to cap enrollment. Families with one child suited for immersion and another not ready for it will now face the choice of sending siblings to two schools, or withdrawing one from the immersion program. This is segregation and it does not appeal to us on many levels.

Integrated French immersion is something our district does well and should continue to support. It needs tweaking, not dismantling. There are many alternatives to segregation (my wife and I have figured out at least 6!) that would save more money and keep one our district's success stories intact. I really hope the elected school trustees take French segregation off the table and focus on areas of decline, largesse, and mitigating the cutbacks on affected communities.

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