Board commits to cancelling French immersion

Haida Gwaii school trustees have voted to start phasing out French immersion on the islands this fall.

School trustees faced an expected, emotional crowd when they officially passed a revised policy to end French immersion on Haida Gwaii. Sk’aadgaa Naay Elemantray will begin phasing out the program this fall.

Shaini Sparrow-Goetzinger, speaking on the behalf of a newly formed group, Parents Concerned with Education in School District 50, berated the board over its quick actions and lack of transparency.

“We have lost all confidence in the ability of the board to act in the best interest of all students of Haida Gwaii.”

The group, having already sought legal advice, told the board that they will be moving forward with having them dismissed.

The meeting continued and the motion to adopt Policy 3400 as amended was made by Kim Goetzinger and seconded by Wilson Brown. There was no discussion and the motion passed 3-1.

As board chair Elizabeth Condrotte attempted to carry out the regular business of the meeting close to half the room stood and demand answers on the decision.

The board’s silence only escalated tension, as parents repeatedly demanded they be heard.

“It would be good to have a discussion to understand the rational,” one man said.

“May we ask now how the French Immersion program would impede in the development of Haida immersion?” asked parent Janet Rigg.

Trustee Goetzinger explained that the board had made the decision as a board and to demand answers from them individually could be considered harassment.

“The decision has been made by the majority of the board,” Condrotte started to explain but was interrupted.

Goetzinger eventually expanded on what influenced her decision for the policy change, reminding the public that French immersion was faced with a shortfall in enrollment last year, and parents asked the board to breach policy in order to save the program.

“We have heard this side for years. And we’re sorry you don’t have the answer you are looking for. We have given so much by breaching policy last year.

“French immersion continued without the numbers,” she said.

Goetzinger also read Article 14 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, in an attempt to share her views.

“Somebody at some point has to listen to this. And that is what we are doing as trustees.”

She added the decision had the support of many who provided the board with valuable feedback, but they were afraid to speak out over fears of public backlash. Two women in the crowd, both Haida, did speak up in support of the new policy, explaining how immersion programs bring back too much emotional trauma of residential schooling.

When tensions eventually calmed, Condrotte candidly told the room the issue “has nothing to do with what is educationally sound, in an intellectual way, [but] is how people are in an emotional way.”

The board was able to finish their regular meeting and opened the floor for last questions. Sparrow took the opportunity to inform the board that due to the way this policy change had been carried out the community has lost confidence in the board. “We will be filing a request to have the board dismissed,” Sparrow concluded.