Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, right, talks with minister Jeanie Dendys before question period at legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 7. Eleven kindergarten students aren’t able to be part of French immersion classes in two Whitehorse-area schools because of capacity issues. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

No space for 11 kindergarteners in French immersion

Minister McPhee said expanding programming to other Whitehorse schools is not appropriate at this time

Eleven students in Whitehorse have not been able to get into French immersion for the upcoming school year because of capacity issues.

Five kindergarten classes offer immersion, Yukon Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee told reporters on Mar. 18 – three at École Whitehorse Elementary School and two at Selkirk Elementary School. She noted that there’s been an addition of one class at the latter because of increased demand.

“Typically we’ll be able to place those 11 kids in French immersion, just based on what we know in the numbers in the past have been. Some parents don’t end up taking their spot, people move, there’s all things that change over the next number of months,” she said. “We should be able to place those families in French immersion, where they choose to be. We will continue to work with them.”

In a written statement, a department spokesperson said the new class at Selkirk is for next school year. It would increase the number of spaces from 18 to 36.

During question period, Yukon Party education critic Scott Kent asked whether there would be an expansion of immersion at other schools to accommodate more students.

“There is no indication that an expansion of the French immersion program is appropriate at this time,” McPhee said.

When asked whether a lottery took place, McPhee dodged the question at the time.

She confirmed with reporters after question period that one did in fact occur on Feb. 18. A waitlist was then created, she said.

“When a family does not immediately have access to the school that they choose, the Department of Education works specifically with that family and their information and speaks to them about options,” McPhee said during question period. “It is only after that process proceeds that there may be a lottery. It certainly is not something that is done every year.”

Only the program at École Whitehorse elementary needed a lottery this year, Kyle Nightingale, the spokesperson, said.

“If there are more registrations than places at École Whitehorse Elementary School or Selkirk Elementary School, the Department of Education conducts a lottery to fairly determine which students are placed in the program in kindergarten,” he said, noting that a lottery system has been in place since the 2015-16 school year.

In the last two years, six kindergarten students were on the waitlist for French immersion, Nightingale said.

“However, in each of these school years, we were able to accommodate all students that were put on the wait list for French Immersion programs, as space did open up.”

There are spaces in Grade 1 and “late French immersion” in Grade 6, McPhee said.

Asked when would be right time to expand the program, she said accommodating new students is “always a moving target,” in that the government must account for things like newcomers to the Yukon, those who leave and birth rates.

She continued on to say that the objective is to have adequate space for increased kindergarten classes while ensuring there are qualified French teachers available, noting that, in this respect, there’s a “shortage across Canada.”

“The other factor that we must consider is to make sure that we can provide proper French immersion education all the way through high school,” she said, adding that F.H. Collins is the only one that offers it.

“We’re not satisfied that the amount of education at the high school level is as high as we would want it to be,” McPhee said. “Not the degree of it, but the availability of different kinds of courses.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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