A Brandon father will be confronting the Brandon School Division board on Monday for what he says is a violation of his minority language rights.
Paul Alexandre, who moved to Canada from France 16 years ago, said he was "shocked" to learn his four-year-old son’s future enrolment at École Harrison — Brandon’s only single-track French immersion school — would be left up to chance with the division’s lottery-style selection process.
"There is an obligation to provide education in a minority language," Alexandre said. "We are not being given something that is guaranteed by the constitution. We are made to compete against English-speaking students — the majority language students — and it’s discrimination. That’s how we feel about it."
Under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canadians are entitled to have their children educated in their first language of the country’s two official languages, French and English.
"For us, it’s very important … it’s a big issue actually, and we are very disappointed that means are not being put in place," Alexandre said. "We are upset, we are saddened and we are angry. We feel as though we are discriminated against as French-speaking people."
BSD has two dual-track French immersion schools, École New Era School and École O’Kelly School, which run French immersion classes alongside English ones, said BSD chair Kevan Sumner.
"It’s called dual-track because there’s two different programs in the school, but the kids don’t bounce back and forth between them," Sumner said.
But for Alexandre, dual-track isn’t an option.
"Yes, the kid will pick up some French, but he’s already getting that at home. I want him to be immersed entirely in French-speaking education," Alexandre said. "It is our heritage — I don’t want a huge chunk of who I am to disappear due to assimilation."
Families also have the option to enrol in the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine (DSFM), which has a school in Shilo, Sumner said.
Alexandre said he has been looking into DSFM’s school in Shilo, however, he is also concerned with the long drive on Manitoba’s highways, especially in the winter, and feels his son is too young to travel alone on the school bus.
"We are very uncomfortable with the idea of going to Shilo and back every day in this weather,"Alexandre said. "I’m being penalized for what is my constitutional right."
The lottery system was introduced last January as a solution to parents lining up outside École Harrison, in some cases overnight and in frigid temperatures, for kindergarten enrolment, said Sumner.
"A few years back when École Harrison was first created … we weren’t getting more registration than we had spaces. However, that changed, and the last year we had 55 applications for the 40 spots that we have there, and it seems to be increasing year after year," Sumner said.
Alexandre said he has approached the BSD with his concerns and was discouraged by the response he got.
"I felt stonewalled. There was no discussion," Alexandre said. "If you have the demand, then you should make the effort, and I did not hear or see any desire to make that effort … that makes me very pessimistic."
Alexandre said he will be asking the school board to amend the lottery-style selection process to exclude children from French-speaking families, who would be accepted automatically.
If the board does not agree to the amendment, Alexandre said he will file a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.
Sumner said at this point, he doesn’t believe there have been any violations to human rights.
"We can guarantee students a spot in French immersion," Sumner said. "We haven’t turned any students from French immersion … just some of them haven’t got into their first choice of school."
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