Lottery to decide French immersion spots in Cowichan

A lottery will decide who gets to register in the Cowichan Valley school district’s French immersion kindergarten this year.

A lottery will decide who gets to register in the Cowichan Valley school district’s French immersion kindergarten this year.

School trustees quickly supported the idea put forward by Schools Superintendent Rod Allen when the subject came up at their Jan. 3 public meeting, after parents camped out at schools to try to get into limited spaces last year.

Allen gave them some background on what has become a problem for the district: too many eager parents fighting for too few spaces.

But there’s even more problems facing the trustees and their staff this year, he said.

“This spring we are having conversations across the province on how we’ll all be affected by the recent Supreme Court decision around class size, composition, and space. That has given all districts including ours pause to think about our space requirements moving forward, which may change somewhat significantly.”

These are big unknowns, he said.

“It’s hard to predict what those changes might be while we’re in the early stages of provincially figuring out what the Supreme Court decision will mean for schools and districts. Space requirements will likely become a stressor for all districts.”

However, it’s registration time for kindergarten.

“We have a viable and fast-growing French immersion program in our district. Kindergarten is the main entry point for the program. And, for the last three years, parents have been lining up for a number of hours and then, last year, it was a number of days in order to secure space in that program.

“One obvious way to manage that is to create more space but, as I said, this may not be the year to do that given that there are so many variables around our space requirements that are yet unknown as we go into the spring.”

Even with that hanging over the district, parents need a fair system for registration, according to Allen.

“We know that the lineup situation last year was not particularly advantageous to anyone. In fact, from an equity basis, it rules out parents who might be single parents who don’t have family care at home, don’t have the ability to perhaps take time off work, whatever it might be, in order to line up, or as last year, to camp out, to register their children,” he said.

The district has already held some discussions with the French advisory committee, which is made up of parents, plus the principals and vice principals from the French immersion schools, as well as senior district management.

“Each of these groups has come to the same conclusion: for this current year we should move to a lottery system for registration,” Allen said. “It would manage more equitably putting students into the spaces that we do have for French immersion while we see the Supreme Court decision play out and we get further information for next year about what our class size, composition, and space requirements are going to be.”

His recommendation to move to a lottery system for kindergarten entry in January and “to clearly communicate this process to the community” was passed by the board of education without debate.