It's a matter of "better than nothing" for parents who have pushed for two years to get early French immersion (EFI) into the Chilliwack school district.
At a meeting Tuesday, the school board unanimously approved Cheam elementary as the site of its new EFI program starting next fall despite the fact that more than 60 per cent of parents who said they wanted EFI in a December survey live on the opposite side of town from the rural, northside school.
"Ack. Up goes my carbon footprint," wrote south-side parent Ron Plowright on Twitter.
Like many parents, Plowright had told the board he would drive his daughter to any school in the district for EFI, but he said he would have preferred something closer to home than Cheam.
"I think Cheam's a great school but it is a ways away," he told the Times. "I value the opportunity for my child to learn French. I also really value active transportation, so it's a shame I have to choose between the two."
There is no extra room on the south side for the program, however, and district staff recommended Cheam because declining enrolment there has freed up two classrooms and the location also has room for portables to accommodate future growth.
But Barry Neufeld expressed concern about the Cheam being able to support growth in the long-term, especially since additions to Cheam were not included in the five-year capital plan approved by the board Tuesday.
"Are we going to get crowded and have another portable village?" he said.
With the district expecting to attract 22 to 24 students to the program every year, superintendent Evelyn Novak agreed finding space for the long-term is a concern.
Besides adding portables at Cheam, she said the board could consider moving EFI to one of the new Eastern Hillsides schools called for in the capital plan.
Board chair Walt Krahn said starting EFI at Cheam would buy the district time to make those decisions.
"This gives us a year or so to determine precisely the interest that we have," he said. "And, based on that, we will make further decisions as the program unfolds."
Early French immersion will start up in September 2014 with two classes, one for kindergarten and one for Grade 1. District staff are meeting with the executive of the Chilliwack chapter of Canadian Parents for French at the beginning of next month to discuss details like registration.
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