A new French immersion (FI) program that was to start at Surrey’s Cougar Creek Elementary next week has been cancelled before it could begin.
Surrey School District officials announced last week that the program was in peril due to low enrolment – just eight kids were signed up to start the kindergarten language program. Early this week, that number had risen to 12.
But that’s where enrolment stalled, forcing the district to halt the program as it fell far short of the 22 students preferable for a full class. Even with 18 or 20, the class may have proceeded, said Surrey Board of Education chair Shawn Wilson, who was shocked at the low interest in the new FI location.
“I would’ve expected there would be a full take-up of that program,” he said. “To ask the questions and go to the public… and include it in a facilities plan and open it and not have anyone commit to it was a disappointment.”
In June, after years of parents lobbying for better access to FI, the school district found available space at the Newton area elementary school and gave the go-ahead to open a new program there. Cougar Creek would have been the seventh elementary school in Surrey to host an early French program.
Heather Bartlett, Acting Executive Director the Canadian Parents for French’s B.C. & Yukon branch, says the Surrey situation doesn’t indicate a lack of interest in FI, but the fact access to programs remains an issue.
“While we recognize that opening a new program was a step in the right direction, it is unfortunate that the first program expansion in over 20 years was placed at the city’s border (with Delta) and not more centralized within the district where there is high demand.”
Every year, dozens of children are put on waitings lists as the demand far outweighs the number of student spaces available for FI in Surrey schools. From spring to mid-August, parents of the 229 families on the waiting list were contacted and offered a spot at Cougar Creek.
Most, said the district, indicated they didn’t want to drive to the school.
Generally, the waiting lists are significantly longer at the South Surrey schools that offer French immersion. But Wilson said the program has to be offered in all areas of the city.
“We have to establish these things in a fair and equitable way,” he said.
“We’re responsible for responding to the public’s demands and then we do and no one responds.”
– with files from Kevin Diakiw