A French-as-second-language advocacy group has voiced criticism over Rocky View Schools' (RVS) recent announcement that French immersion and other alternate programming will not be included in its expanded online course offerings this fall.
According to Michael Tryon, executive director of Canadian Parents for French Alberta (CPF Alberta), feedback from parents and stakeholders have indicated that some members of the public are not happy with RVS’ decision.
“From what we understand, the online program that [RVS] has offered, [and are] currently offering, was quite extensive. Families that had been taking advantage of the programming have been very pleased,” Tryon said.
He added many parents and students discovered the change to RVS’ online programming when they went online to register for the 2021-22 school year and discovered a notification about a lack of French offerings “buried in the middle of the page.”
“We’re sort of upset that this was done without consultation, with really limited notice. It was straight out of the blue,” he said. “The fashion that it was done in was not good.”
According to a CPF Alberta press release, parents have until May 31 to make a decision regarding the format of their children’s learning for the next school year. The closure of the Alberta Distance Learning Centre this June leaves French immersion students little to no option for distanced learning within RVS.
“This decision forces parents to choose between allowing their children to continue in French Immersion or having them learn in an environment in which the health and safety of their family comes first,” stated the CPF Alberta press release. “All of these students have been in French Immersion since Kindergarten and it would be heartbreaking for them not to be able to continue.”
Following the RVS Board of Trustee’s announcement on April 1 that they will be continuing and expanding their online learning offerings for the 2021-22 school year, the board assigned a task force to survey stakeholders regarding the potential changes.
The board received a total of 1,100 survey responses from parents and stakeholders, and following the task force’s recommendations, decided to offer an expanded regular stream program to online students next fall.
Discussing the division's online offerings at the board meeting on May 20, trustees added they hope the planned offerings will prepare the groundwork for additional French immersion and faith-based programming in the future.
“It makes prudent sense in a first-year program to focus on getting this up and running and established,” said Ward 3 (Airdrie) Trustee Todd Brand. “This is brand new territory and I would be surprised if we had sufficient numbers in any alternate program to swing over a whole bunch of qualified teachers to be able to do that.”
Brand noted it would be difficult to “watch a full-fledge alternative program in the same year that you’re trying to launch two new [online] schools in a brand-new way of doing school.”
Similarly, Ward 1 (Chestermere) Trustee Shali Baziuk echoed Brand’s sentiments and said it would be “wise” to focus on creating a successful regular track program before adding on additional programs of choice.
“I’d love to see [the addition of additional programs] once we are able to do that – particularly in my ward, where French immersion only goes to Grade 9,” she said. “At some point it would be a nice opportunity for parents to get that, but I understand that we’ve got to get some success first before we start to throw more things in to the mix.”
According to CPF Alberta, 46,636 students (6.3 per cent of Alberta’s total student population) were enrolled in French immersion programming in Alberta during the 2019-20 school year. Tryon said the need for French immersion online offerings has become more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic,
“For those parents who made the decision to keep their kids at home, regardless of what age they are, they’re concerned about making a decision not knowing what the reality will be in September when classes start,” he said. “[They’re concerned about] the reality around the pandemic, the reality around what safeguards schools are going to be implementing, the reality around each individual child’s needs.”
He added some students have medical issues that need to be taken into consideration, while other students are simply thriving participating in an online model rather than attending school in person.
He added that he would like to see RVS go back to the drawing board, contact stakeholders, parents, and voters to determine a path forward for French immersion students.
"When you have such a strong history of offering this program in the community, why wouldn’t you consult us first?” he said.
“This is all just being pulled out from underneath them without any consultation, without contact – nothing.”
In response to CPF Alberta's press release, the RVS Board of Trustees wrote in an emailed statement to the Airdrie City View that, based on feedback from survey respondents, total enrolment online in 2021-22 is in anticipated to be less than half of what it was this year.
"If our French immersion online numbers dropped by half at the grade 1-9 levels, then we would not have sufficient numbers to offer the program," the statement read. "What that [means is], we decided to focus our efforts on regular programming in 2021-22.
"In subsequent years, we may be able to expand our online offerings and consider introducing programs of choice if enrolment numbers are high enough to make them viable."
The statement also said that while online offerings have been discontinued, RVS is continuing to believe in and invest in French immersion programs throughout RVS French immersion schools.
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