If there was anyone in Oakville who thought the Single Track French Immersion (STFI) method of delivery was not potentially a deciding factor for many in this election, they were sadly mistaken. For many that issue and that issue alone may be the deciding factor on who they vote for.
Although much is being said about this issue in wards across Oakville, it is in Ward 4 that much can be heard through email and the Internet chatter right now regarding this very debate. Accommodation meetings defining programming at the recent Palermo school have made the issue more urgent. Although new entries into the Ward 4 race are weighing in on the controversy, it is Kathryn Bateman-Olmstead who has potentially the most to gain or loose depending on whether you feel she has supported STFI.
Kathryn is seeking re-election and has stated she is surprised by what she believes was a misunderstanding regarding Q&As posted on her site last week. Many in the English community are furious they say at what they perceive is another biased attempt to take over a local school. Kathryn, herself, has stated that was not her intention and has since modified her website to address the concerns and clarify the information.
Believed by many STFI parents as the better method of ensuring kids receive French Immersion programming, it is equally vilified by English track parents who believe it is a method to rob local communities of schools and regular programming.
Since the STFI model is exclusive to Oakville (not even in the rest of Halton), it depends what side of the fence you are on as to whether you believe STFI is good or bad. Many families who are participating in the STFI model want this method rolled out in other communities while those opposed disagree and swear they will not stand idle again while local schools are taken over for a ‘select few who choose optional programming’.
Now you may be asking why would this debate be important in the middle of our current election considering the last elementary school indeed ended up being dual track and the kids seem to adjusting quite nicely to each other under the same roof?
Some say it is years of watching what they believe to be bias from their elected trustee and that the Q&A information posted was a plea appealing for votes from the French parents by asking for preferences on programming at the upcoming high school.
Kathryn has stated that was not her intention when she posted this information on her newly revamped site. She stressed that she was simply answering questions that residents had asked. Since the high school is the latest new development in the community and will affect many, she believed it was important to ask those affected what they wanted at the school. The same Q&As did, in fact, cover other topics as well such as special education, etc. She did also, once aware of the controversy, amended the site to reflect those issues/concerns and issued a statement regarding the upcoming programming at the school.
For critics, however, they believe the actions/words are just the latest effort in giving their local schools away or having the optional programming parents receive special treatment. They are angry at what they believe is a school board that protects the needs of optional programming at the expense of communities and mandated programming.
One parent representing English parents who vow to stand up and fight have stated that “due to the situation regarding the Ward 4 Public Consultation Process of 2008/09 and the public’s input on whether Palermo be opened as a single track or dual track school, it was stunning to learn on vote day in April 2009, that Ecole Forest Trail was funded as a dual track school by the Ministry yet the HDSB opened an exclusive FI program under their radar. This of course shut off a fair amount of a new community from this school when it opened in fall 2007 and continues to be the cause of extreme overcrowding at West Oak Trails (850+ without the port a pack). It was beyond frustrating to learn after months of public consultation to the tune of over $40,000, that Palermo was also funded as a dual track school and that if the trustees voted that night for it to be single track, funding would have to be reapplied and it could delay the opening. Kathryn Bateman Olmstead still voted to open this school as a single track FI school even with this knowledge. .. Thus, when one skims through her website as Kathryn seeks re-election, and sees the first FAQ referring to FI programming in the new high school, everyone assumes what they already know to be true, that Kathryn votes for program over accommodation and that the program she votes to expand at every turn, is in fact French Immersion, no matter the cost to the surrounding community.”
This is only a sampling of the angry correspondence coming our way, national newspapers and to local politicians and representatives who are being asked to provide a clear direction on STFI in the community in relation to the new high school.
Kathryn has been the elected representative for 4 years serving the community on many issues other than STFI programming and some of these have included other thorny issues such as school closings. She believes she has served the community well and wants the public to vote her in again.
Regardless of whether or not you believe what Kathryn is stating her intentions were in this latest round of events or side with those who insist her pro-STFI decisions have affected communities negatively, this most recent debate shows parents will not tolerate not being heard or considered and that accommodation and programming must be weighed against needs, perspective and budget. We are not stating that opinions and actions are fact or not but rather presenting what seems to be the latest round in a very heated and contested election.
Let the national scene take notice of what is happening in our community and its outcome emphasizing healthy debate and respect. We encourage each of our residents to vote and make their voices heard regardless of where you stand on this and other issues. It is our democratic right and more importantly our responsibility as it is evident that it may shape our childrens’ future.
[Editor: This article was reprinted with permission from www.oakvillechitchat.com]
The 2010 Oakville Municipal election will be held on October 25, 2010. Visit our special Oakville election 2010 section for the latest election news, candidate profiles and more.