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Enrolment in French immersion still a lottery

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Students wishing to enrol in French immersion in the Okanagan Skaha School District will still need luck on their side.
Although a lottery and skilfully selected class sizes will remain, trustees believe a change in wording to another policy will be an improvement for pupils wishing to enter the program, which operates at schools in both Penticton and Summerland.
Trustee Walter Huebert served a notice of motion that would make it mandatory that all students who apply for the program be accepted. Currently, all seats in French immersion are selected by lottery, but with a guarantee to siblings who have an older brother or sister in the program.
The board this week eliminated the sibling policy.
In addressing the board with a 10-point presentation, Huebert noted that French is one of two official languages in Canada.
"What is our view when English is not taught in Quebec?" Huebert asked. "Do we have a lottery system for students to enter the English stream and be taught in the English language? In my opinion, this is the right thing to do."
Huebert said the public feedback he received was all in favour of accommodating students.
Huebert's motion was voted down 6-1 but sparked debate at the board table.
"This is really a hard one for me because I'd love to see French immersion for all of the kids," said vice-chairperson Tracy St. Claire. "What I struggle with most is the attrition rate."
Assistant superintendent Dave Burgoyne presented a long list of financials and noted that depending on the numbers requesting French immersion, it could cost the board nothing extra - or up to $93,000 if a new teacher is needed.
Earlier in the meeting, trustees were informed about the provincial funding models for all students and were presented with the news that increased utility costs in Penticton alone are expected to cost the board more than $70,000 annually.
"We need to know a lot more of what's in our own budget before we make any more program enhancements," said trustee Linda Van Alphen.
In drawing comparisons with other boards in B.C., superintendent Wendy Hyer said most still use the lottery system for French immersion. She said three exceptions are Saanich and Victoria, which are far larger than Okanagan Skaha, and Merritt.
Hyer said there's also a significant dropout rate from the time a student enters the program in Grade 6.
Trustee Ginny Manning argued that French immersion should not be offered at the expense of the English program.
"This isn't a case of if you built it, they will come. There's no guarantee (of being accepted into the program)," Manning said. "French immersion is an important group, but they don't merit more than the English program."
Earlier in the three-hour meeting, a procedural bylaw was passed that states, "The number of late French immersion classrooms and in which schools these classrooms will reside will be confirmed by the board of education when it passes the budget in May."
Board chair Bruce Johnson was satisfied with the amendment. He believes trustees will now be more actively involved with the decision-making process than they have been in the past and is hopeful it could create some compromise in the French immersion selection without mandating staff offer it.

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