Family frustrated after French Immersion boundary change in Sask. Rivers

Sask Rivers Photo The current boundaries for French Immersion in the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division after Februrary, 2021 changes.

When the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division made changes to their transportation boundary areas for French Immersion in 2021 Marla Schattle and her family were affected.

The family lives between Debden and Canwood and lies two miles outside of the school’s division boundary lines. If the family wants to access French Immersion education, they have to transport their children themselves.

Schattle had an appeal to the board of education denied in September, 2021 after changes were made in the French Immersion transportation service area last year to align with provincial regulations. However, the family still wants the division to take another look at the request.

“I think the public does need to be aware of the fact that this happens,” she said. “Even though I am one of two families affected at this point in time with a no sitting on the table, why can we not fight for this?

“We all pay taxes for this. Why am I being penalized? Why are my children denied education when education is apparently so important for this government and for Sask Rivers. I won’t let it lie.”

Schattle has a child in Kindergarten and one in preschool. Her family lives near the border that divides busing service for the Sask Rivers French Immersion School in Debden, and regular school in Canwood.

A year ago they received notice that the boundary for bus service to Debden was changing, so Schattle submitted a letter in the fall asking to be grandfathered in as some other families had. That request was denied, but she asked for another review in the spring.

Her most recent letter was on the agenda for the May 9 board meeting but was dealt with in closed session and was denied again with the note that they board would not reconsider the matter.

Schattle said that in discussions with neighbours, boundary changes have been an issue in the area before.

“In the history from what I know the SRSD, 20 years ago probably, for sure,” she explained. “I know they were picking up (students) north of Canwood probably a good six to 10 miles past my place and farther away from Debden to haul kids to Debden, so why is my two miles a problem right now?”

The changes made had an impact on various families around Debden and Canwood who have received busing in the past. The board has been in conversation with the families since, and continues to be in the case of Schattle.

“It’s true there was a few difficulties, so we changed the transportation service areas,” director of education Bratvold said in September.

“Some families requested transportation. We applied our admin procedure and they appealed to the board and some of those appeals were granted and some of them were not. That’s kind of the reality of it.”

Schattle said she talked to the Saskatoon Public School Division, and that division offers transportation to the Cree Immersion school, but warns children will be on the bus longer than expected. She wonders why it’s an issue in Sask. Rivers.

“I’m not asking for 30 miles,” she said. “I am asking for two miles from where the existing one is. We had bussing services before they decided to change their minds, so what is going on?”

The division said Schattle’s request was denied because her children had not yet entered French Immersion School. All families who received approval had children already enrolled in school.

“This is ridiculous that my kids weren’t in school full time so I don’t get grandfathered in,” Schattle said. “I am paying school taxes. Anybody who owns farmland in Saskatchewan is paying school taxes, so why am I not getting reimbursed then if it’s my decision for my kids to go to Debden? I should be reimbursed for the fact that I am not accessing and I have been denied transportation access.”

When the first appeal was denied in September, Bratvold said that the even before the boundary change, the division had been operating above and beyond the regulations for some time. The need for clarification is what brought the appeals before the board.

After approving one appeal in August, Bratvold said they expected to see more appeals from the area.

He said they tried to find their way to a reasonable decision.

Both families who were denied made two separate requests and followed the process. Afterwards, they submitted letters of appeal to the board. Both letters were discussed separately at the meeting in September.

The board looked at two motions during the meeting—one for each family. The first allowed one family with children already in school to keep attending Ecole Debden School. The second motion denied the appeal of the family.

Schattle said that she would like to know what the provincial regulations are.

“If they can provide some information on that, that’s great,” she said.

According to the document available at the Sask. Rivers website about the 2021 changes, the existing transportation routes that service communities with French Immersion schools (Debden and Prince Albert) are available to French Immersion students. In the City of Prince Albert, all residences have access to transportation services to their designated French Immersion School

The following rural school attendance areas have access to transportation services to their designated French Immersion School: Debden, East Central, West Central, Osborne, Red Wing, Spruce Home, Christopher Lake and Wild Rose.

Transportation is not provided to their designated French Immersion school in Big River, Canwood, Shellbrook, St. Louis, Birch Hills, Meath Park and Kinistino.

Schattle said that she expects to hear that she is being denied access to transportation, not access to education.

She said it feels that she is spinning her wheels going back and forth with the division.

“Who in rural Saskatchewan can get away with not having transportation,” she said.

The Saskatchewan Rivers School Division did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.