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NB. parents pushing for French Immersion feel ‘unfairly treated’ by Anglophone school district

Kingsclear Parents' School Support Committee Chair Rebecca Atkinson wants to see a French Immersion program started at the school.
Kingsclear Parents' School Support Committee Chair Rebecca Atkinson wants to see a French Immersion program started at the school. Adrienne South/Global News

Parents of students at a small school in Fredericton are frustrated with the Anglophone West School District’s decision to not implement a French Immersion program, that they feel could help save their school from facing closure.

Rebecca Atkinson, chair of the Kingsclear Parents’ School Committee, has been asking to have French Immersion brought to the school, but the program was denied. Instead, parents have to send their children to Garden Creek Elementary School about 10 minutes down the road.

“We have been being denied French Immersion to bus children to another school that is overcrowded, that already has one portable,” Atkinson said.

Parent Chad Billington said one of his children is bused to Garden Creek for French Immersion, but he’d prefer to see his other kids stay at Kingsclear.

“It just feel like the systems and policies aren’t working together to produce a fair outcome for the students and the parents that want to see this school continue to succeed,” Billington said.

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Billington feels the district only wants to add French Immersion programs to schools that have sustainable futures.

“We have the potential to see our school continue to stay open, but we’re facing challenges,” Billington said. “They’re saying our enrollment is too low, but because French Immersion is not being offered at our school in the coming year, we stand to lose at least 20 and possibly 30 students out of a potential population out of 80 or 90.”

The parents’ group launched a petition in May that received more than 120 signatures, and was presented to the Anglophone West Acting Superintendent Catherine Blaney. Atikinson said other parents were also surveyed and the majority of them felt they would keep sending their children to Kingsclear if immersion was offered.

“There was a really fantastic conversation that took place at the District Education Council Meeting last night around the topic of French Immersion in schools,” Atkinson said.

READ MORE: New Brunswick education minister says ‘no’ to funding for school in Hanwell

She said the Parent School Support Committee sent a letter to the District Education Council (DEC) and the group got confirmation at Thursday’s DEC meeting that the district did not intend to cause any kind of harm to students or the school.

“Kingsclear is a wonderful, vibrant, small school. It is a school where every student and every teacher knows everybody,” Atkinson said.

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She said there are several empty classrooms at the school that could easily accommodate an immersion program. Billington agrees the small school setting is working.

“This is a model school and I think that they’re doing things right,” said Billinton, “and why would we try and send kids to an overcrowded school?”

Atkinson and Billington both said the group wants to work in collaboration with the district, and they aren’t against a school being built in Hanwell.

“We believe both schools can co-exist,” Atkinson said.  “We are not saying that a school in Hanwell should not be built.  We want to sit down and work collaboratively.”

School District Response

In an emailed statement, Anglophone West School District’s Catherine Blaney said when it comes to making decisions about where French Immersion will be provided, long-term sustainability of the French Immersion program, the number of students, the availability of qualified French teachers, sufficient space within a school, transportation, and parental preferences are all considered.

“Forty-three of the 69 schools in the district will have French Immersion in the 2018-19 school year, which represents 62 per cent of our schools,” Blaney sstated. “In addition, we have students from 13 schools who will be able to access the program in other locations with transportation provided.”

Blaney said students in the remaining 13 schools will have access to the pre-intensive, intensive and post-intensive French program.

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“We do our best to provide opportunities where we can while considering all options and variables,” Blaney said.

Anglophone West School District Education Council Chair Kimberley Douglass said the decision on the sustainability study on Kingsclear Consolidated was tabled until October.

“At our regular public meeting this October we will re-visit the decision, and if the school is to be closed, the decision on when will be addressed then,” Douglass said.

She said DEC has three options when it comes to Kingsclear:  maintain the status-quo, ask for financial investment to be made on the school, or to close the school.

Douglass said the decision to study the school was based partially on recommendations from an Ernst & Young study that was done for the DEC.