The newly released French Immersion (FI) numbers presented at an information night at the new Palermo Public School last week are causing outrage in the community. With a school which was built and funded as a dual track school to have its FI enrollment numbers 5 times the English enrollment numbers for grade 1 entry levels, many are crying foul and claiming takeover was always the intention.
The debate now raging once again in Halton about FI is not about whether or not FI as an optional program should exist, should be funded, is popular, or is affective but rather does the delivery model and lack of policies/procedures that restrict enrollment protect dual track schools from becoming STFI schools after being funded with the intention of being dual track by the Ministry of Education.
Why should one new school having its English population outnumbered by FI even though the school is supposed to have balance for both matter to Oakville or even Halton? Well it should matter to everyone and the implications can/could affect our entire community.
Issue 1: Parents pressured to choose FI
Parents are feeling pressured to enroll their children in the French Immersion program (even if there was no prior interest) because of the number of FI classes vs. English. By enrolling in the mandated English program instead of the optional FI program and based on the numbers presented without any caps or restrictions, a child is automatically in a minority situation. The ratio being allowed after only 1 year of what was to be a balanced environment is 5 to 1. Yes the new school and the method and boundaries used are allowing 5 grade 1 FI classes to 1 grade 1 English class.
Issue 2: Takeover of school due to no policy preventing unbalanced enrollment
Parents within Oakville (and believe me we have heard from parents not attending Palermo specifically) who feel that the lack of caps or reviews and/or enrollment balancing for both streams will ensure their worst fears.
Many have believed that Palermo would eventually be a STFI school although its technical label and funding model was dual track. This belief has been expressed by both English and French parents.
Now with the numbers being 5 to 1 (5 FI grade 1 classes to 1 English grade 1 class), they fear the school could become literally STFI (in enrollment) in far fewer years than anticipated.
Issue 3: HDSB stats indicate they have done a terrible job maintaining a balanced enrollment
Delegation after delegation has shown that many schools in Halton classified dual have had their English enrollment butchered leaving most of the population FI. With hard caps or a policy dictating a mandatory review and process to open up other schools as dual for excess enrollment, a balanced population will not exist (often after only a few years).
Issue 4: Broken promises to families moved to new school
So why should taxpayers, residents, parent or those not attending a specific school care that the HDSB is not ensuring a balanced enrollment for both streams.
Well…because not only did the board promise but they moved children from existing schools, forced families to accommodate the change and quite frankly wasted a lot of time and emotion making families participate in a charade that it was going to be the first example where the two communities would live under the same roof, respect each other, learn from each other, etc. It was supposed to be Oakville’s model of dual track even if many feel the HDSB policies pit French and English stream families against each other.
So what is Oakville’s experiment at a dual track school really turning out to be …a school where one side can outnumber the other 5 to 1 in about a year at least at the entry grades. To many they fear it is a “Just grow the numbers from the ground up and take over the place” philosophy.
Issue 5: Ministry of Education insulted or tricked into funding
Palermo was specifically funded as a dual track school. The Ministry of Education funded it as such. In fact, Director Joudrie stated at the Board meeting prior to the vote taking place, in front of many community members, that the Ministry of Education had already warned HDSB about requesting funding for STFI. If funding a STFI school was not possible, then why had thousands been spent discussing/analyzing the option, community time wasted participating in such a review occurred, or why had time/effort been wasted having parents prepare and present delegations fighting for/against the option.
So what’s the big deal if lack of controlling enrollment force the place to end up STFI and why should you care especially if it is not your local school?
For one it makes a complete mockery of the Ministry of Education because they did not insist on either caps or a policy that ensured equal enrollment for both sides. Why should Halton care? There is an old saying. “Never bite the hand that feeds you.”
In addition, their refusal to support policies and procedures that protect and maintain balanced enrollment for both sides in dual schools shows once again that their agenda is to push the STFI model without regard to the mandated educational programming.
We have reached out to the HDSB and the Ministry of Education (after receiving a firestorm of correspondence from parents across Oakville) asking how this could occur again in our community, what policies they plan to implement to ensure a dual school is protected and whether new dual school sites will be open instead of constantly taking over dual tracks schools with French Immersion programming. We are waiting to hear specific information on how they plan to address this latest development that has outraged the community. We welcome their comments and information on real sustainable solutions.