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Struggling Coquitlam district French Immersion students forced to switch schools

Parents stretched to fill gap in French language schooling during COVID-19 now told there's no room for them in English program, Canadian Parents for French says parents should be vocal about lack of supports
Parents express frustration with French Immersion supports and lack of help for students
Parents express frustration with lack of support for their students struggling in French Immersion. Some are being told to move schools if their school doesn't have room in the English program.

Parents whose children are struggling in French Immersion are having to change schools if they want to switch to the English program.

And COVID-19 may be making families’ lives more difficult.

A Coquitlam mom, whose daughter is in Grade 2, was told her daughter will have to switch schools because there’s not enough room at Porter elementary school for her to switch to the English program.

“Why are we being let down? I don’t think we are being supported at all,” said Kristina, who said her daughter struggled with Grade 1 French Immersion and fell further behind during the COVID-19 lockdown, when schools switched to virtual instruction.

Kristina, who said she’s heard similar complaints from other parents she’s contacted, says schools should be better prepared to handle students’ changing needs, especially during COVID-19, when parents have been tasked with overseeing the bulk of their children’ education.

Another parent, who the Tri-City News has agreed not to publicize to protect her child in her new school, says her daughter also struggled, received no help from their original school, and had to change schools, too, especially after the young girl suffered anxieties, which increased by the day.

Their concerns come as French Immersion parents have called for additional supports, including a French Immersion remote learning option, which has not been provided during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Canadian Parents for French says parents should be vocal about their issues.

In an email, the executive director for the BC and Yukon branch of the Canadian Parents for French said School District 43 parents are not alone in their concerns about their children’s quality of education suffering in these difficult times.


“Too many school districts are failing to provide viable remote learning options for French immersion programs right now. We’ve heard from hundreds of upset parents over the past month. Honestly, the best thing parents can do right now is be vocal. School Boards need to hear that this is an issue,” Glyn Lewis told the Tri-City News.

But for Kristina, who would like her daughter to stay at Porter elementary instead of switching to another school where there is space, neighbourhood families should be able to stay in their school.

“Why weren’t we grandfathered?,” said Kristina, who said she contacted the school in the first week of September to have her daughter switched to English at Porter but was told there was no room in the English program.

“Either she goes into French or we have to change schools,” said Kristina.

A spokesperson for School District 43 couldn’t speak to the specifics of the case but said “classes are set at the end of the first week and with class size limits it is sometimes challenging to move students after that time.”

To move a student, there simply must be a space available in the program they wish to move into,” Ken Hoff stated in an email.

Kristina says the school should have known her daughter was struggling as it was a concern she raised as early as last February and again in June when her daughter fell further behind during the months schools were closed.


For the other family, whose daughter attended Mary Hill elementary, changing schools turned out to be a blessing after months of struggle with the Port Coquitlam school.

“COVID hit and home schooling was a nightmare. I emailed the principal in May asking to switch to the English program as her paediatrician and the psychologist we saw said it would be worse to take her out of a school she knows to one she doesn’t. She said ‘no too full go to your catchment’ which I was not crazy about. I told her you guys failed us. I went for help at the beginning of the year and no one helped.”

Similarly, Kristina said she didn’t get good advice when her daughter was struggling in French Immersion and was actually encouraged to let her daughter stay in Grade 1.

Then COVID-19 hit, and Kristina said the pivot to virtual learning was no help for her daughter.

During those months, Kristina said, her daughter was overwhelmed with the school work which included reading, math and art and what was supposed to take an hour and a half ended up taking four hours.

“It was just a lot because we had to translate it.”

Her daughter, who was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, couldn’t focus, school work became a struggle and the girl became anxious.

At the end of June, Kristina said she asked her daughter’s teacher if she should switch to the English program at Porter but was told to practice reading with her daughter over summer to see if things would improve.


There was no improvement, Kristina said, but when she emailed the principal on Sept. 6 to have her daughter switch to the English program, she was told there is no room.

She said the school should have known as early as June that her daughter wanted to be placed in the English program because she had brought it up with the child's teacher.“It’s the only reason I’m upset it’s because they said she should enrol in English and then they said they don’t have room.”

Currently, her daughter is in the gradual transition program, working on district supplied materials, which are in English.

But Kristina said she'll have to make a decision soon about whether to move her daughter to another school that has space or watch her continue to fall behind in French Immersion if she returns to her home school.

The struggles with French Immersion program are a dark side of the popular program that was first started in B.C. in the Coquitlam school district.

According to the school district’s website, the younger the student the more of their education is in French, with Kindergarten to Grade 2 students receiving 100% of their instruction in French.

Approximately 12% of School District 43’s students are in French Immersion, or about 3,900 students.