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Decision on schools’ future set for Jan. 7

LRSD board have difficult decision to make; parents voice fears

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It was famously said that you can’t please all of the people all of the time — and Louis Riel School Division’s board of trustees should know exactly how that feels.

Based on projected enrolment information for the next five years, officials have been looking at potential long-term solutions to tackle overflowing enrolment in French immersion schools in south St. Vital. The goal is for a tangible solution to be in place for the September 2014/15 school year.

The division has six schools in the geographic area with the capacity for growth — Samuel Burland, Highbury, George McDowell, H. S. Paul, Dr. D. W. Penner, and Victor H. L. Wyatt — and two French immersion schools which are already over capacity — École Julie-Riel and École St. Germain.

In terms of public consultation, school administrators have held community meetings at each of the eight schools at least once since September.

Officials say they are committed to making a final decision on Jan. 7, when a recommendation will be made to the board during a public meeting. The decision, together with the criteria used, will be shared with schools and parent communities starting Jan. 8.

At a three-and-half-hour public meeting held at the board office on Dec. 9, principals of the eight schools and representatives from their respective parent advisory councils delivered their feedback before an extensive presentation from LRSD assistant superintendent responsible for French immersion schools, Christian Michalik. The session ended with numerous parents and stakeholders in the audience, some visibly emotional, taking turns asking questions and voicing their concerns.

"This is our dilemma, our reality and our opportunity," said LRSD’s superintendent, Duane Brothers, at the start of the meeting. "This is a very important journey for us. Our goal has been to compare and contrast the eight school communities and we want to leave here this evening with a sense of where we’re heading. Some people will be affected by this change and we have to look after everybody."

Whatever the final decision is, it will affect the lives of numerous children and families in the South St. Vital catchment area. It’s a vastly complex issue, which factors in countless variables. Some of the many concerns voiced by parents include increased travel time and distance to school and, therefore, also the safety of their children; the impact of the decision on daycare facilities; and the breakdown of school communities.

Debby Yachison, one of many worried parents, fears the change will affect the well-being of both her children and their school community, which is in the southern part of the catchment area.

"You will be taking children from the most southern part of the catchment to the most northern part. It doesn’t make sense," Yachison said. 

"I encourage my children to take their bikes to school in the summer, as there is a wonderful and safe biking and walking path from St. Anne’s to St. Mary’s. I can’t imagine sending them to Victor Wyatt via bicycle on St. Anne’s Road."

Yachison believes "many parents" will switch their kids from French immersion to English programs if this particular option is chosen.

Michalik said once the decision is made and communicated to families, officials will move ahead with consultations with students, parents, staff and daycare providers, while also focusing on infrastructure, programming and transportation issues.

For more information, visit www.lrsd.net

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