Legal papers were filed today in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saint John seeking a judicial review of changes made to French Second Language programs following the March 14th, announcement of Education Minister Kelly Lamrock. Concerned parents across the Province have joined together and retained Fredericton lawyer, Thomas Christie, after it became clear that the Government was not willing to postpone the changes to FSL education to allow for a proper consultative process with all stakeholders.
“At no time in the FSL Commission’s process was it clear that Early French Immersion was on the chopping block,” says Tim Jackson, one of the group organizers leading the Judicial Review. “Minister Lamrock gave New Brunswickers only two weeks, one of those being March break, to look at the report and its recommendations before he implemented them fully. This is not even close to the kind of consultation period required to determine if such sweeping changes are appropriate.”
The FSL Commission Report, authored by Dr. James Croll and Mrs. Patricia Lee, neither of whom are experts in second language education, was made public on February 29th. This report has been widely criticized for its shoddy analysis of Department of Education data, the lack of statistical support for its own recommendations and bias in the report’s language. The recommendations of the report were fully implemented by the Minister on March 14th.
In addition to claiming the process has been flawed, the group makes particular note of the Minister’s commitment that disruption to children currently in the public education system would be minimized as these changes are rolled out. From what they have seen and experienced disruption to families is being felt on a number of fronts, particularly for parents of kindergarteners who were registered to enter Grade 1 French Immersion in September 2008. Examples of how these parents have been affected by this policy change are varied but include:
- Their kindergarteners being forced to change schools in the 2008-2009 school year,
- Siblings who will be split between different schools, and
- Kindergarteners who might otherwise have qualified for enrollment in District 1 but have now missed the “francisation” program enabling them to start grade 1 in French.
Paula Small, just one of many parents with a Kindergartener registered for EFI for the 2008-2009 school year, provided an affidavit with the application for Judicial Review. “On January 21st, as requested by School District 8, I registered my daughter for EFI. On February 4th I attended an District-hosted information session on the program outlining the positive benefits of the program and its results, and a mere twenty-five days later, with almost no notice, the Minister of Education eliminated an established program which was more than three decades in the making. I was shocked. Aside from highlighting poor communication and governance processes between the Minister’s policy setting body and the District’s registration process for 2008, the rapidity of this policy implementation displays a complete disregard for a large number of citizens of this province.” stated Mrs. Small. “According to the Department of Education, parents are considered ‘partners’ in the education system. We feel that the government has effectively shut one of their major partners out of this process.”
Patrick Ryan, who recently returned to the province with his young family, also provided an affidavit with the application. "Our expectation, moving home to New Brunswick last year, was that both our children would have the opportunity to participate in Early French Immersion. What concerns us most is the limited consultation and the lack of transparency for such an extreme upheaval to our province's education system.”
“If neither the Minister nor our Government is going to provide New Brunswickers with due process, then we will demand it,” says Jackson. “French Second Language education is too important to New Brunswickers, culturally and economically for it to be trifled with. We would rather have had an honest and informed debate on how FSL programs should be delivered than be backed into taking legal action to getting one.”
The group has established a Fund for donations to offset legal costs of the case. Donations and more information can be found at http://www.educationnb.org/.