Citing low demand for French immersion programs at the two elementary schools that offer them, the Jefferson Parish school system is bidding adieu to those programs in favor of Spanish immersion, though some form of the French programs may survive at a different school.
Four-year-old French immersion programs at Frederick Douglass Elementary on the west bank and J.C. Ellis Elementary on the east bank will be discontinued after this school year. Currently enrolled students will be allowed to continue, but the programs are not accepting new kindergarten students, Superintendent Cade Brumley said last week.
In French and Spanish immersion programs, students are instructed in the target language, except for "English language arts." The goal of the programs, also known as dual-language programs, is to produce students who can read and speak both English and the target language.
The decision to end the programs was driven by low enrollment numbers. At Douglass in Gretna, for instance, the program's four grades have a total of 35 students. By contrast, Jefferson Parish schools have approximately 14,000 Hispanic students, and of the 8,000 students for whom English is a second language, the majority are Spanish speakers.
Student-teacher ratios in French immersion classes hover around 8- or 10-to-1, while other classes have as many as 28 or 30 students, Brumley said. Dual-language programs with Spanish often have waiting lists, he said.
School officials accepted applications for French immersion this year to see if it would generate more interest, but it didn't, Brumley said. All the students who applied were offered spots in Spanish immersion, he said.
But the move has angered some parents who said that if they had known they needed to have a certain number of applicants, they would have worked to recruit other parents for the program. They also complained that they found out about the system's plans only after the application process had closed, leaving them with few options.
"It would have been nice to know there was a target number," said Ashleigh Polley, whose daughter is in first grade and whose son is entering kindergarten. "I would have liked the opportunity to apply for an Orleans Parish school."
There is a ray of hope for parents like Polley, though. After she and others complained about the cancellation of French immersion, School Board member Mark Morgan proposed putting some French immersion classes at L.W. Ruppel Academy for Advanced Studies in Gretna.
He asked the administration to prepare a proposal for French programs at Ruppel and present it to the board.
Ruppel is a selective-admission school, but Morgan said French immersion applicants would be given special consideration there. Selective-admission schools have room for additional students, Morgan said, and at Ruppel, French students could go all the way through eighth grade, like the current French immersion students at Ellis. Douglass offers only kindergarten through fifth grade.
"The French immersion program could fit very well into Ruppel and spark more interest," Morgan said.
His proposal may be voted on at next month's School Board meeting.