Parents lose French Immersion battle, but vow to continue fight for Surrey schools

Surrey school board voted to reduce the French Immersion program at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary despite pushback from parents.

Despite parent opposition

SURREY — While parents have lost their French Immersion battle at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary, they say it’s not the end of their fight for more Surrey schools.

The Surrey Board of Education unanimously voted to cut back the French Immersion program at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary on Thursday, despite pushback from parents.

The school will now have one kindergarten immersion class instead of two. Existing program students and their siblings will be grandfathered in.

“We expected that to be the result so it wasn’t surprising for us,” said Cindy Dalglish, whose child attends the program. She is also an education advocate and led a campaign calling for city council to slow down growth until the school infrastructure could catch up — and for the province to cough up funding.

SEE MORE: School capacity concerns spark opposition to Panorama development

It’s all related, she noted, because the reasoning behind cutting back French Immersion at the school was because there simply wasn’t enough space.

Despite recent capital funding for an addition at Woodward Hill, the projected enrolment growth in the catchment area will continue to negatively impact the neighbourhood, a report noted.

“We understand that at the end of the day the policy for choice programs, they’re there when space is in surplus,” Dalglish said. “Clearly space if not a surplus in our neighbourhood…. It’s not great news for us but it speaks volumes as to the fact that the province isn’t funding the district properly.”

Premier Christy Clark came to Surrey’s Panorama Park Elementary in late May to announce the province would commit $74 million to new schools, and the district would need to come up with another $26 million.

This, after parents rallied at Surrey city hall and on the steps of the legislature in Victoria calling for school funding immediately. Also, the Surrey Board of Education unanimously passed trustee Laurae McNally’s motion to Surrey Council to temporarily suspend new developments in the Clayton, Grandview/South Surrey and South Newton regions until the district receives appropriate funding.

SEE MORE: Surrey school trustee’s call to curb growth ‘hit a chord’

The $100 million will create 2,700 new student spaces including 600 new seats through “rapid expansion projects” at Sullivan, Woodward Hill and Panorama Park elementaries.

But at Thursday’s board meeting, staff told the trustees it would be “ambitious and unrealistic” to expect those to be completed by September 2017.

The remaining 2,100 student spaces the provincial government has committed to will be created through two new schools: a Grandview Heights secondary (expected to be completed by the end of 2020) and a Clayton North elementary (expected to be completed by the end of 2019).

Trustee McNally said she’s “never seen the board as frustrated” as they were at Thursday’s meeting.

While the province claims it wants to “expedite” school construction, they’re doing the opposite, according to McNally.

“I think they should look up ‘expedite’ in the Webster dictionary,” she remarked.

“The province has instituted a whole bunch of new bylaw procedures that I think create more work of us,” McNally said of the $74 million in capital funding. “If this provincial government is serious about cutting red tape, the very first place they should look is the Ministry of Education.”

Meanwhile, Dalglish expects a crowd of at least 200 at city hall on June 27 to oppose a 15-acre Panorama Drive development because the local schools won’t be able to handle new students. And, she added, the fight will continue at higher levels of government as well.

SEE MORE: Parents to continue fight for schools at upcoming Surrey meeting

Dalglish, who is with the group South Newton Community, said they are reaching out to other areas where schools are bursting at the seams, such as Grandview and Clayton.

“We’ll keep pushing. Our pressure is not waning because we lost this one fight. The war has yet to be won,” she remarked, referring to the French Immersion loss. “We’re not going to stand for the fact that they’re election platforming.”

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