On Campus

Judge quashes N.B. plan to cut early French immersion

But ruling just a "speeding ticket"; program is not protected by the Charter

Parents fighting a New Brunswick government decision to scrap early French immersion scored a victory in court Wednesday that throws the province’s plans into doubt.Justice Hugh McLellan of the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench sided with parents who argue Education Minister Kelly Lamrock didn’t allow enough time for debate before making his decision on the program. “Thus the decision of the minister was unfair and unreasonable,” McLellan wrote. The judgment quashes Lamrock’s decision in March to scrap the program and sends the matter back to the government for further review.

“Any further decision by the minister should not be influenced by any expectations, consequences or possible waste caused by the March decision that has been quashed,” McLellan says. “Also any further decision should be made in accordance with the principles of fairness after an appropriate opportunity for interested citizens and organized groups to be heard.”

There was no immediate reaction from the provincial government.

The court was packed for the decision as parents brought their children, including babies, to hear McLellan’s ruling. Instead he handed out his seven-page written decision, which parents quickly flipped through before they began applauding, hugging each other and crying when they realized they had won.

Two parents, Paula Small and Patrick Ryan, filed affidavits with the court in Saint John asking it to review Lamrock’s decision while also seeking an injunction to reverse all decisions related to it Paula Small’s husband, Ray, spoke for his wife who wasn’t able to attend the decision, saying he hopes this will save early immersion, which is prized by many parents as the best approach to teaching French as a second language.

“We’re back to square one,” Small said. “The way we understand it, early French immersion is reinstated as of right now and he (Lamrock) has to go through an entire consultation process, a fair and open process, before anything can move forward.” Both Small and Ryan have children in kindergarten and registered them in early February for the Grade 1 early French immersion program in September.

Jane Keith of Canadian Parents for French in New Brunswick said she hopes Lamrock doesn’t try to get around the court decision and move ahead with his plan to cut early immersion in September. “It wouldn’t be smart for him to do so given that the court has said it wasn’t a proper review, it wasn’t based on sound decisions and parents weren’t given a chance to have input.”

McLellan rejected an argument that the move by the province violates the parents’ Charter rights that guarantee minority language education. “In my opinion, early French immersion for anglophones in New Brunswick, the linguistic majority in this province, is not protected by the Charter,” he wrote.

In his ruling, McLellan says the parents who initiated the legal action had a reasonable and legitimate expectation the program would not be cut without having a real opportunity to be heard. “The government just got handed a speeding ticket,” Michael Wilcott of the parent group Citizens for Educational Choice said after the judge’s decision.

Ryan, who recently moved to New Brunswick with his family, has said he was most concerned about the limited amount of consultation before such a major decision for the province’s educational system.

The New Brunswick government cancelled early French immersion in March in favour of an intensive French program in Grade 5 that will be offered to all students. A French immersion program will not be available to students until Grade 6. Early French immersion, which was offered beginning in Grade One, was held by many educators and parents to be a Cadillac program for second-language training.

The government took the step because it said the program wasn’t working and it was effectively separating and streaming children based on language ability.

-with a report from CP

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