Education Minister gives EMSB 30 days to choose, or he will transfer schools to French board
Education minister Jean-Francois Roberge confirmed Friday morning that he is going to shut down three English schools this summer unless he can work out an agreement with the boards in question.
"This is not a fact, but this is the ultimate possibility unless we can work out a deal," said Roberge.
Roberge said that he has sent a letter to the EMSB and to the Pointe de l'Ile school board advising them he will use special ministerial powers to transfer three schools from the English Montreal School Board to the Pointe de L'Ile board without notice and without the normal legal requirement of 18 months' notice.
Roberge can unilaterally transfer the management of schools under Section 477.1.1 of the Education Act.
"I regret sincerely and I'm very unhappy that the English Montreal School Board decided to go public yesterday with the letter that I sent them. I specifically asked them to inform parents first, and all the affected personnel before going to the media. It's a question of respect," said Roberge.
The affected schools are Gerald McShane Elementary, General Vanier Elementary, and John Paul I Junior High School.
"I want to reassure the anglophone community there will be classes for their kids next September. Good classes, good schools. They won't be missing any space," said Roberge.
Having three schools would be a big help to the Pointe-de-l'Ile School Board, said Miville Boudreault, the school board's president.
"Over the last 18 months we had 3500 more students than the year before," she said. "The solution that will fix the problem for the long term is really a transfer of school."
Roberge said there was space at nearby EMSB schools that could accommodate the transferred children.
He said the EMSB has 30 days to hold consultations and decide what to do, or he will decide for them.
"It's urgent to act because there is a glaring lack of space in the Pointe de L'Ile school board," said Roberge.
Galileo students at the heart of the issue
EMSB vice-chair Joe Ortona said Thursday that Roberge asked the board in recent weeks to give up a school, and did not like the idea of the board giving up the Galileo Adult Education Centre.
"We’re quite shocked by it. He said he’s giving us until the end of the month, which is way shorter than the 18-month consultation period. And he drops this bombshell not even 24 hours later," said Ortona.
The board said that was the only school that could be transferred without notice because it is used by 140 adult special needs students, and not by children.
However Roberge said he would rather move children instead of moving adults with special needs.
"We need to protect them. It's our job as adults and elected officials to protect the vulnerable," said Roberge.
Parliamentary Secretary for Anglophone Relations Christopher Skeete said that the EMSB needed to come up with another solution.
"The plan that was created by the English Montreal School Board required uprooting very vulnerable people," said Skeete. "We have to think outside the box to make real solutions happen."
He said that consultations about transferring schools should have started two years ago, instead of forcing a rush decision now.
"Why are we always faced with inaction?" said Skeete.
Jacques-Cartier MNA Greg Kelley said the deadline is too swift.
"I think there's always more time that you can leave for the school boards to work things out together. To just arrive very quickly and say, 'We need a solution quickly' and two weeks later say, 'I've had enough of this' so it's over. I don't think that's leaving enough time to get things worked out," he said.
Quebec English School Boards Association is appalled
The Quebec English School Boards Association said it "is appalled" at how the government is acting.
Pointing out the Ministry of Education has already transferred Riverdale High School from the Lester B. Pearson School Board to Marguerite Bourgeoys, it said that Roberge is not considering the ramifications of his decisions.
"This Minister needs to understand that there is a major student, teacher, parent and community impact when closing a school - especially within the English-speaking community in Quebec," said Dan Lamoureux, president of the QEBSA.
He added that the minister has refused to meet with English school boards on multiple occasions.