HWDSB French Immersion Grade 1 Placement Review

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Dear Superintendent Bill Torrens, HWDSB Trustees and MPs, 
We are writing today to express our concerns surrounding the latest French Immersion (FI) Placement process.  
Our primary concerns are the following: 
1. Lack of access given that denial of transportation is effectively denial of access for many families;  
2. Unbalanced allocation of resources given the distribution of demand for FI across the City; and 
3. Random selection being used as the primary tool to allocate oversubscribed seats. 
We propose the following three actions: 
1. Re-evaluate supply and demand across the board now that application numbers have been finalized; 
2. Redistribute FI resources in proportion to demand for FI across the board. This may involve the establishment of temporary relief options for the upcoming 2019/2020 school year for areas with a surplus demand for FI. Matching supply to demand would eradicate the need for random selection, as well as address transportation issues, as most students would be able to remain local and thus eliminate the demand for out-of-catchment transportation; and 
3. Accelerate Pupil Accommodation Review in affected areas in order to create meaningful change before the 2020/2021 school year. 
We acknowledge and appreciate HWDSB’s commitment to guarantee placement within the FI stream to every applicant. However, placing students in schools that are not only out-of-catchment, but even outside adjacent catchments is effectively a denial of access for most families. For example, arranging private transportation to Bennetto for students in the Dundana catchment would require just under two hours of commute time every day when taking into account distance, traffic, parking and drop-off. This is not a realistic or practical option for most families. It adds additional financial pressures, compromises parents’ employment, and reduces quality time together. Moreover, it will require most families in out-of-catchment schools to enrol their children in before-and-after care. These spots are already oversubscribed in most schools, and imposes an unnecessary financial burden on families who otherwise would not require this service. For the City of Hamilton, it increases traffic congestion during peak hours, exacerbates carbon emissions and air quality concerns, inhibits opportunities to instill a greater sense of local community, and runs counter to the stated objectives of Active and Sustainable School Transportation Charter that HWDSB has adopted. 
We are concerned that the distribution of FI spots across the board does not reflect the needs of families within the board. The fact that so many children were refused access to FI placements in their respective catchments, while other schools are massively undersubscribed, points to a lack of responsiveness to HWDSB’s constituency. It is, moreover, a break with the precedent set in Waterdown wherein Mary Hopkins (previously solely English stream) served as temporary relief to accommodate a burgeoning demand for FI while a more permanent solution was developed. This year, demand for FI exceeds supply by 44 students combined across Cootes Paradise, Dundana, Fessenden, Earl Kitchener, and Glen Echo. It would seem both reasonable and prudent for HWDSB to redistribute FI allocations so as to accommodate this demand either in-catchment or at least in adjacent catchments to improve accessibility. This could even take the form of temporary structures on school lots until such time as a more permanent solution can be implemented. We are calling on HWDSB to fulfill their declared commitment to French as a Second Language that envisions “All students communicating and interacting with growing confidence in French” by taking immediate action to mitigate the growing needs of the FI program. 
We also seek an accelerated timeline for the review of the distribution and availability of FI placements across the city. It is incumbent upon HWDSB to evaluate the supply of and demand for FI placements, and to respect the intentions of families in the community. We urge the HWDSB to undertake the Pupil Accommodation Review within the year so that another cohort of families does not have to undergo the painstaking and anxiety-provoking random selection process again next year. 
We see the increase in demand for FI as a positive reflection of our collective commitment to respecting the bilingual constitution of Canadian society. That our childrens’ futures are being determined by chance has caused great concern within our communities, particularly when there appears to be ample resources to accommodate their instruction in the French language. We call on HWDSB to demonstrate the political will to ensure genuine access to the FI program for all children whom the board services. 
We appreciate your consideration and await word as to what actions will be taken in response to our concerns.  
Thank you in advance, 
The undersigned parent community, advocating for the HWDSB French Immerson Program

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