Trustees say French phase-out will further reconciliation

Local school board trustees are now asking for public input before voting to phase out French immersion.

School trustees are now asking for public input before they phase out French immersion at Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary.

At a special board meeting on Monday, the trustees revoked an earlier decision to phase it out.

Trustees then voted 4 to 1 in favour of revising the school board policy on French immersion, once again to phase it out.

This time, the proposal is open to public comment.

“We are in unceded Haida territory and we acknowledge and respect the culture that comes with that territory,” said the trustees at the end of a statement posted on Tuesday.

“We appreciate the feedback received from all stakeholders on this matter. Our aim is to advance the process of reconciliation.”

Parents of some of the 29 children interested in the French program have appealed to the B.C. ombudsperson and threatened a court challenge, in part because trustees made their first vote without any public consultation.

Until Tuesday, the trustees’ only public statement on the issue was a May 31 letter saying that French immersion was cut, like other programs, because of declining enrolment. The letter made no mention of reconciliation.

Elizabeth Condrotte, a trustee and current chair of the school board, explained at the time that French immersion was being phased out so Sk’aadgaa Naay’s other classes would be big enough to avoid grade-splitting.

In their latest statement, the trustees list 12 things they considered before deciding once again to phase out French immersion.

Enrolment and class size are two of the 12 things on the list, along with similar administrative issues, such as lack of testing for French students and timetable conflicts with Gidgalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary.

The list also includes considerations that would support French immersion.

For example, the trustees heard a presentation last May by parents with children in the French class, who said learning French has many benefits, and does not harm Haida language learning at the school—for nine years, children in the French immersion program at Sk’aadgaa Naay have been learning Haida and English as well as French in a unique, trilingual program.

Trustees also heard from Haida language teachers at Sk’aadgaa Naay, who said they appreciate the language-teaching tips they got from working with the French immersion teachers.

On the other hand, the trustees heard another presentation last May from the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP), which questioned why French immersion is being taught on Haida Gwaii.

Furthermore, trustees said they considered the fact that Haida language was nearly lost to Haida people because of residential schools and other harms of colonialism.

They also considered that Haida hereditary chiefs, elected leaders, and the Haida Nation have declared that only Haida and English are the official languages of Haida Gwaii.

To view, comment, or ask for clarity on the proposal to phase out French immersion at Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary School, visit www.sd50.bc.ca.

All submissions will be considered by the trustees at the June 28 school board meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the Queen Charlotte school board office.