French Immersion students ‘re-designated’ to Port Stanley


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The sheer popularity of the program will send senior students at Pierre Elliott Trudeau French Immersion School on to buses and out of St. Thomas.

And that has one parent taking to Facebook to challenge the decision by Thames Valley District School Board to “re-designate” students to Port Stanley Public School, beginning in September.

A letter was sent home with students Friday outlining the plan to address overcrowding at the board’s lone French Immersion school in Elgin.

“Parents in the Pierre Elliott French Immersion Public School community have expressed concerns about the overcrowding and have asked the Thames Valley District School Board to look at options for accommodating French Immersion students in more than one school,” writes Don Macpherson, superintendent of student achievement.

Macpherson advises a parent meeting was held in January to seek input from the school community. Based on suggestions from that meeting, beginning in September French Immersion students in Grades 6-8 and Grade 7 and 8 Extended French students will attend classes in Port Stanley.

Approximately 240 students are impacted in the transition plan.

Students living outside the walking distance of Port Stanley Public School will be transported to and from the facility by bus.

Macpherson refers to the plan as a “multi-year, short-term solution, until a longer-term plan for French Immersion programming in Elgin county is developed.”

Julie Karathanassis of St. Thomas says she and other parents were unaware of the January meeting as no letter was sent home advising of the open forum. Instead the meeting was advertised on social media and on the signboard in front of the school.

“None of us knew about it,” Karathanassis stresses. “My husband and I have been part of this school for 17 years. We knew there was overcrowding, it has always been an issue since the Wellington days (when French Immersion classes were housed at Wellington Public School).

“It’s turned into a major issue with portables,” Karathanassis continues. “When I asked the (school) council how they got the message (of the meeting) out to people, I was told Facebook, email, Twitter and the sign out front of the school. That’s social media and it’s a good tool but it’s not getting it out to every parent involved. You need to send a letter home. They sent a letter home on March 13 about what they are going to do.”

Karathanassis insists busing to Port Stanley is not the only option and she has set up a Facebook page (‘say no to Pierre Elliott Trudeau bussing to Port’) as “there has to be another solution than all those buses transporting all those kids up and down the highway every day.”

Elgin school trustee James Todd says a group of parents organized themselves at the school “to express concerns about crowding.”

Todd notes the school has a population of just over 700 students and “is currently taxed to the max. It has, I think, a dozen portables on site and is being heavily pressured. The portables take up play room and make it a very crowded environment.”

The January meeting was organized by these parents and a survey circulated among those in attendance.

“The vast majority in that survey indicated they wanted a move. They wanted something done to relieve the pressure at the school. The suggestion from parents was Port Stanley would be a preferred alternative and that was taken to heart by the administration.”

A plan to reorganize bus routes and schedules for September is underway now, notes Todd.

He adds there is no time frame on how long students will call Port Stanley their home school.

“It’s not going to be the permanent solution for Elgin county,” says Todd. “We have to have a larger discussion about how should we deliver French Immersion in Elgin county if there is that much popularity and more than one school, how should we organize that?”

Todd went on to say there is room for expansion on the current site of Pierre Elliott Trudeau school.

“Physically, there is room for expansion. And that is a possibility. Then the question arises whether a school that size is suitable for this age group. And there are opinions about that on both sides.”

In November, 2013, a group of parents in West Elgin and Dutton/Dunwich challenged the school board over a proposal that would have sent 40 or so students to a French Immersion school in Strathroy — a 70-minute bus ride from home — instead of the shorter trip to St. Thomas.

At the time, TVDSB defended its position as an efficient use of resources.

However the board reconsidered a proposed boundary change and the students were allowed to attend school in St. Thomas.

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