The local school board cited creeping numbers and a lack of qualified teachers as the reasons for setting a cap on French immersion enrolment in Merritt at the board meeting on March 14.

The district will allow up to 28 students to enter into the French immersion program at Collettville Elementary starting next fall, with a waiting list for any number of kids who sign up past that number.

The cap is “really precautionary right now, in the sense that we’re not sure if we’re going to be able to get the staff that’s needed,” said School District 58 superintendent Steve McNiven.

With 27 students starting school at Collettville in 2017/18, the school operated one kindergarten class, and one Grade 1/K split. If the school were to sign up more than 28 students, another division would have to be staffed, said McNiven.

French immersion enrolment hasn’t been capped at Collettville before, but an increase in the number of students last year forced the school to open up another class and prompted the school board to consider instituting a cap for the upcoming year.

Should the district recruit more French immersion teachers, students beyond the cap could potentially be admitted into the program. But a teacher shortage across the province has made recruitment challenging, explained McNiven.

French immersion teacher retention is also an issue for the district.

“Often French immersion teachers have a lot of choice and they chose to go elsewhere,” said McNiven.

Early enrolment for kindergarten classes ran from Feb. 26 to March 9, and 27 incoming kindergarteners have already registered for French immersion for 2018/19 in Merritt.