Board grants late French immersion students reprieve

Grade 6 French immersion student James Chen and five of his peers approached the large ominous desk in front of members of the Richmond Board of Education Monday night and laid out their best argument as to why their McNeely elementary late French immersion class should not move next year.

The courageous speech was enough for trustees to unanimously vote to keep the class one more year despite recommendations of school district staff it be joined with an early French immersion class at Mitchell elementary this September in order to save $100,000.

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"Je suis tres excite (I am very excited)," said Chen, when asked how he felt following the meeting.

Numerous parents representing both Mitchell and McNeely schools attended the meeting to decry plans by the district to shut down the McNeely class as a result of low enrolment.

"I'm just happy to have the kids complete Grade 7 at their own schools. Both programs will be able to finish the way they are supposed to," said Colleen Cheung, a parent of a Mitchell student. Mitchell parents were concerned their children would be adversely affected by having late immersion students enter the early immersion class.

Kirsty Petersen, a member of the Canadian Parents for French, spoke to the board prior to the vote, noting that, according to her organization, there had never been a case of merging late and early immersion students prior to Grade 8. She said the merge could have had negative outcomes for all the students because they are at different levels of French communication.

"You're asking parents to take a leap of faith for something that has no precedence," Cheung told the board.

Despite the district's financial pressures, the board voted unanimously to run the class with just 10 students.

"I feel, we as a board implicitly made a promise to build a program. ...So we must finish it," said Trustee Eric Yung.

While the parents and students got their way, the late immersion program at McNeely will nevertheless close come June 2015.

"We can't continue to run three sites," remarked assistant superintendent Lynn Archer, who said only 60 new students registered district-wide in late French immersion for next school year.

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