Elk Island Public School (EIPS) parents in rural Strathcona County are not thrilled with the proposed removal of Ardrossan Junior and Senior High's French immersion program by the 2024/25 or 2025/26 school year. 

The proposal, which came from the division, aims to shutter the junior and senior high programs in Ardrossan and move them to Bev Facey High School in Sherwood Park. 

EIPS put forth the proposal due to incoming enrolment pressures from an expected uptick of students coming into the division as well as an attempt to retain students in the French immersion program. 

"We've got two new neighbourhoods that are coming up, Cambrian and Hearthstone, and those two are developing simultaneously," said Sandra Stoddard, the associate superintendent and eventual superintendent of EIPS. 

"As well we have some other new divisions and residential developments coming up that are going to lead to significant enrolment pressures at Ardrossan junior and senior high in the near future." 

Stoddard added that one of the things they also found is that French immersion enrolment tends to drop off the moment that students need to change schools.

The logic follows that by putting the majority of programming in Bev Facey, this could help retain students. 

Parents aren't happy with the proposed solution, with some raising concerns over increased commutes and having junior high students mixed into a larger senior high population than what existed in Ardrossan. 

Chantel Butt has a son in grade 3 enrolled in Ardrossan's elementary French immersion program and says a change like this cause the family to drop him out of the program as soon as he hits junior high.  

"I am such an advocate for learning second languages, especially the two official languages in Canada, but honestly I am not prepared to send my son to Bev Facey for grades 7 to 12 to continue the French immersion program," said Butt. 

"We will probably drop out at grade 7 [and move into English programming]." 

Butt went on to say that she feels the process that EIPS has gone about the whole thing has been wrong. She says that parents are getting the impression that the division is trying to push this one solution forward instead of entertaining multiple. 

Stoddard says that EIPS has not made a final decision and is still open to suggestions from the parents. 

"We have not made a decision on what we are doing," said Stoddard. "When we did our last consultation, we did hear from the parents that were in attendance say, 'Give us an idea of a potential option so that we could react to it'."

"The one we did provide at our last consultation was just an option that we really wanted our parents to provide us feedback in terms of what's good about these solutions, its strengths, some of its challenges and maybe some other solutions that the division should consider." 

An alternative that seems to have at least some support among parents is to keep the junior high programming in Ardrossan while moving the senior high program to Bev Facey. 

Tanya Doran has two kids, one in elementary school and another starting kindergarten, who are both in French immersion. She thinks this alternative could potentially solve a lot of the issues that parents are seeing with the current solution being presented. 

"I would be more open to that," said Doran. "In reality, in high school, a lot of kids are getting their license and starting to drive," 

"By the time they are in high school, it's a different story. They are definitely more independent, and it wouldn't be as concerning." 

One other thing that Doran mentioned was that while parents in Sherwood Park have the ability to change over to Elk Island Catholic Schools for different French immersion options, parents in rural Strathcona County don't have that luxury. 

"If you look at Sherwood Park, the catholic school system has French immersion," said Doran. "Unfortunately, out in the country, we don't have those options." 

At the moment a survey has been put out to families and staff to provide feedback on the proposed solution as well as alternative ideas. 

"I really want our families to engage and to not feel that their input is not going to be valued or heard and for them to really participate in the survey so that we can gather everybody's input," said Stoddard. 

"We want to have our French immersion programming as robust and sustainable into the future as possible. That is our major intent, keeping kids in the program from kindergarten right up to grade 12." 

A final decision is expected to be made by EIPS in June, where they will put together a recommendation to the school board.