Eastern Townships French immersion program scaled back; parents question the timing

For decades, English-speaking students at a Cowansville high school, in the Eastern Townships, could attend a popular French immersion program for a three-year program.

But with only weeks left in the school year, local parents just discovered that Massey-Vanier high school is scaling back the program, offering it only in two years and then switching students back to English for their final year of high school.

The decision has left locals scratching their heads, coming especially as the province was preparing to pass a new, stricter language law encouraging French use even more, especially in education.

"I think speaking French is a necessity, especially these days in Quebec," said Spenser Beaulne, who did the program himself and whose younger sister was about to start it.

"More and more regulations are coming out, and trying to offer both languages is pretty important no matter where you are."

The Eastern Townships' school board said they made the decision for COVID-related reasons, though not in the public health sense.

They dropped the Secondary 3 immersion program after consulting with students, who said they were concerned about spending more time in a closed group after spending two years with COVID-19 restrictions.

That explanation doesn't sit well with parents, who said it's them, not their kids, who should be making such important decisions.

"I don’t know any kid who will say 'Please, give me more work, please make it harder for me, please challenge me, especially at that age range,'" said Jessica Brown-Gauthier, Spenser Beaulne's mother, whose plan was to send her daughter through the program.

The school board says it also consulted with its governing board, which approved the decision. It was up to parents to seek more information, the board said.

But parents who spoke to CTV said everyone not directly affected were left out of that conversation, even if the future changes would still affect them.

Now, they say, if the full program just disappears, it might be hard to ever bring it back.

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