‘Not enough capacity’ in west Guelph for French immersion program

GUELPH – After a report to the board concluded there’s no room for a consolidated French immersion (FI) program in west Guelph, Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) trustees are asking for further information to address gaps in the report.

In June the board directed staff to undertake a study on the feasibility of a consolidated JK to Grade 8 FI program in west Guelph schools.

The final report was presented to school board trustees and staff at an Oct. 12 business operations committee meeting.

After reviewing enrolment trends for regular and FI programs, in addition to school and ground capacities, board staff put forward a recommendation to the committee not to proceed with a public review process to create a consolidated JK to Grade 8 FI program in west Guelph “due to a lack of sufficient capacity in existing schools.”

The report noted there is no ability for the board to consider reassigning a regular track or FI program to create space for a consolidated JK to 8 FI program as it would require a pupil accommodation review, which is currently overshadowed by a minister moratorium.

UGDSB superintendent of finance Glen Regier noted moving a program of this size would require a pupil accommodation review as opposed to just a boundary review.

The board’s manager of planning Ruchika Angrish presented the enrolment for the 2021-22 school year in addition to the projected enrolment for the FI program at Gateway Drive Public School and Willow Road Public school, which she noted are based on the board’s long-term accommodation plan.

Currently the enrolment cap for junior kindergarten is 29 students. As of September 2021, there are two open spaces in the program, according to Angrish.

In total, junior kindergarten to Grade 3 French enrolment at Gateway Drive Public School sits at 147 students, she noted.

“According to these projections, a consolidated JK to (Grade) 8 French immersion program for west Guelph would mean accommodating up to approximately 240 French immersion students in one school,” Angrish explained.

“To accommodate approximately 240 students for a consolidated JK to (Grade) 8 French Immersion program in long term, currently based on the current scenario, the capacity of the schools and the enrolment projections, there are no schools in west Guelph with enough surplus capacity.”

She noted although Willow Road Public School shows 262 spaces this year, those numbers only reflect the current regular track program.

She also confirmed the projected numbers took into consideration any current development applications that are proposed or under construction in the area.

“Once Grades 4 and 5 French immersion students enter Willow starting 2022-23, the capacity of the school reduces to only 53 spaces by 2027-28 which means there’s not enough capacity to also include the remaining JK to 3 students currently at Gateway,” she added.

She concluded the consolidated program is not feasible at this time due to enrolment levels, lack of capacity in current schools and the current moratorium on public accommodation reviews.

Trustee Linda Busuttil, who said she’s been involved in French immersion for many years, voiced her disappointment on the outcome of the report.

“This is not something that’s going to go away for west Guelph,” she said. “This is a program that we have advocated for in west Guelph.”

Busuttil noted the report was missing information about enrolment by regular track and grade-by-grade retention, adding it doesn’t separate the regular track enrolment numbers from the French immersion.

“So what we’re seeing is a snapshot, but not the trend here,” she noted.

“I know the projections speak to that, but anything around student retention as we have in the long-term accommodation plan, year retention by year by year, if it can be included in that supplemental information as well.

“I think overall, what I was hoping to see in the report is how to get to ‘yes’ and I know that even if we have overwhelming numbers the reality is that our hands are tied because the tool to do any kind of adjustment to school programming is through the accommodation review and that is something that is not available to us.”

Busuttil noted this is a committee meeting and no decisions will be made until the board meeting at the end of the month.

“I just feel that this is an ongoing conversation, we’re not done with this yet.”