French immersion registration process changed

Nanaimo school district changed the French immersion registration process for next year to avoid long lineups and parents camping out at schools.

Last spring, parents camped out for the entire weekend at all three elementary schools in Nanaimo that offer the immersion program in an effort to ensure their place in line when registration opened on the Monday. The lineup got tense enough that police were called to one school the Friday before registration opened to resolve an argument between some parents in line.

A review of the district’s French immersion program, made public last year, suggested centralizing registration, eliminating preferential treatment for siblings and a lottery system instead of first-come, first-served.

Since then, trustees have heard from numerous parents who don’t want the preferential treatment for siblings eliminated. The new registration process gives first priority to children who are siblings of students already in the French immersion program.

All registrations will be done centrally at the District Administration Centre – instead of at individual schools – and after siblings are accommodated, the remaining spaces will be allocated using a district-wide lottery process.

Sarah Lee, a parent with two children in Hammond Bay Elementary School, said she felt that trustees and district staff listened to parents’ concerns.

“Four days of camping out is quite arduous,” she said. “I think the board made some good decisions, I think they heard what parents were asking for. What you want is everyone being on the same playing field.”

Last year for the first time in a number of years, the district was unable to accommodate all parents and at the end of the two-week registration process there were 39 students on a wait list, although district officials believed some of these were duplicates.

This September, the district had 37 students on a wait list, which was reduced to 29. All 37 were offered a space at some point, but not necessarily at the school of their choice.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the new registration rules are not a long-term solution to the issues facing the French immersion program – while the district’s immersion elementary schools are over capacity, the program loses students over time – and trustees must determine whether to increase capacity and how to deal with the attrition rate.

Lee suggests offering more specialized programs other than French immersion such as the international baccalaureate program.

“I think parents feel it’s French immersion or nothing,” she said.

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