Immersion conversion plan under fire

Some parents on Tuesday criticized the Lafayette Parish school district’s plan to shuffle students at three schools, Alice Boucher, S.J. Montgomery and Myrtle Place elementaries, to create a French immersion-only campus at Myrtle Place as soon as next August.

“Why should my child be sacrificed so your child can be on a pathway?” said Phil Auter, whose preschooler was set to begin kindergarten at Myrtle next year.

The planned move would rezone 55 kindergarteners and non-immersion first-graders at Myrtle Place and consolidate French immersion classes at Alice Boucher and S.J. Montgomery at Myrtle Place. It would also impact an estimated 30 incoming Myrtle kindergarteners, like Auter’s daughter.

Nicole Boudreaux, the district’s world language specialist, said options for students who would be displaced are still under review, but students may be rezoned to S.J. Montgomery or be given priority consideration for French immersion at Myrtle Place or other schools of choice programs.

The concession wasn’t enough to satisfy some parents.

“S.J. Montgomery is a D school,” said Aurora Auter, who with her husband, Phil, bought a house in the attendance zone for Myrtle Place.

“Why S.J. Montgomery?” said Aurora Auter. “Why must my child take French or go to a D school?”

Auter alleged that the district’s proposal violates her daughter’s civil rights because it forces her to attend another school.

Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau said parents will be given options and the plan will be reviewed by the federal judge who granted the district unitary status.

The proposal is the first step in a plan devised by a task force of immersion supporters, including parents, to grow immersion enrollment in French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese from nearly 1,200 to about 4,500 students over the next six years.

Boudreaux said the task force began meeting in the fall and it did not include non-immersion parents, an unintended oversight. She said Myrtle provided a centralized location to consolidate smaller programs at Boucher and S.J. Montgomery as the district attempts to grow its immersion options for parents.

Boudreaux said the district has about 200 preschoolers on a waiting list for French immersion.

The proposal continues to evolve as the task force continues its meetings, Boudreaux told the group of about 30 parents. For instance, one recent change proposes the displacement of only the youngest students at Myrtle with those in grades second, third and fourth being allowed to finish their fifth-grade year at Myrtle, she said.

The Auters also criticized school district leaders for not including non-immersion parents in the task force sooner.

Billeaudeau said three more “town hall-style” meetings are planned prior to district officials presenting the plan to the School Board at its March 6 meeting. By the end of Tuesday’s meeting, district officials also said non-immersion parents would become part of the task force.

Ashley Lecky, parent of a French immersion student, urged the Auters and other parents with concerns to consider the proposal as an opportunity for their children to enter the program.

Research shows that French immersion students outperform their non-immersion peers, she said.

“Understandably, this is very upsetting ... The numbers prove what immersion does,” Lecky said. “I encourage you to really open your mind and consider (the) opportunity.”

Following the meeting, non-immersion parent Rona Jolivette said she will now consider French immersion for her kindergartener if it means keeping him at his school.

Prior to the meeting, Prairie Elementary French immersion parent Karolyn Plaisance said while she empathized with Myrtle parents, French immersion is in demand in the district.

“We need to expand,” said Plaisance, who is also vice president of Les Amis de l’Immersion, a group of immersion parents and supporters. “We have so many parents we have to turn away. This (proposal) would be a big help.”

Renée Lestrapes’ third-grade twins attend the school. Her son is in French immersion at the school, while her daughter is not.

“My biggest concern was that they were going to separate them,” she said. “If they get to age out (at Myrtle), I’m okay with it,” she said following the meeting.

After about 90 minutes of discussion, Superintendent Pat Cooper assured parents that no decisions about the proposal had been finalized.

“My commitment to you is we’re going to listen,” Cooper said.