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Early EFI K class at Spencer nixed

A proposed one-time additional early French immersion kindergarten class at Herbert Spencer elementary will not proceed.

Although there is enough demand for a fourth class at the school, New Westminster school trustees at Tuesday’s education committee meeting heard a great deal of opposition to the idea because there’s not enough room.

District staff had suggested the possibility of using a classroom that is now being used as a resource room to accommodate the extra class. The concept received support from the New Westminster chapter of Canadian Parents for French, but many parents wrote, emailed and phoned the district to object. An online petition objecting to it has reached more than 200.

Spencer’s teachers, both English and French, also submitted a formal objection to the idea.

“Herbert Spencer school already suffers from inadequate space. Adding a new classroom and additional students will further reduce the school’s available space for learning,” said the teachers.

Trustee MaryAnn Mortensen said she was shocked by the divisiveness between French and mainstream (English) parents, but also between EFI parents, over the issue. But to have a “significant amount of parents, not a minority” and the school’s teachers objecting to it said a lot. Mortensen said the school was built in the early 1990s to house 350 students, but there have been changes that have expanded enrolment to nearly 500. If the extra class was brought in there wouldn’t be any place to hold meetings or many other activities that are part of school life.

She said the issue highlights the district’s need to reduce ad hoc decision making.

“One of the concerns [board of education trustees] had, and it seemed we had it collectively, was around the long-term planning for waitlists for our programs of choice,” said Mortensen. “French immersion isn’t the only program of choice with high demand. Montessori on the east side has the longest waitlist.”

No vote on a recommendation to the board for its next meeting on June 26 was made, so the idea could be revived then. But Mortensen said it was highly unlikely. The education committee did, however, recommend the formation of a committee to discuss a parent/caregivers bill of rights proposed by trustee Casey Cook.

Mortensen said the committee will consist of three trustees, a principal or vice principal, representatives from the teachers and support staff unions, the district parent advisory council, student council and the multicultural management team.

Although she didn’t feel it was necessary, Mortensen said some trustees wanted parental responsibilities added to the document. Its name will also be up for discussion.

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