Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge has instructed the English Montreal School Board and the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l’Ile to find a solution to overcrowding at the French school board that does not involve transferring students from the Galileo Adult Education Centre in Montreal North, effectively blocking the EMSB’s original proposal.

In a letter to the school obtained by CTV News, Roberge provides a deadline for coming up with a different option. The minister has given the boards until May 1 to submit a draft agreement regarding sharing space and has scheduled a conference call with EMSB board chair Angela Mancini and CSPI board chair Miville Boudreault for May 3. He urged them to comply in order “to avoid last resort measures being taken.”

The letter, sent on Wednesday, reiterates Roberge’s earlier recommendations of elementary and high schools that could potentially share space or be transferred: Dalkeith, Gerald McShane, Our Lady of Pompei, Honore-Mercier, Pierre de Coubertin, John Paul I Junior, Laurier-Macdonald, and Lester B. Pearson.

Responding to questions from CTV News on Thursday, Mancini expressed concerns there won't be enough time to modify the proposal since the board would have to hold consultations on any new plans. She also indicated that Roberge could make a unilateral decision.

“He's asked us to go back to the drawing board. Don't forget the minister always has a right, at the end of the day, to use article 477 even in this instance. I think he's hoping that we will find our solutions that we feel best suit our needs, and so at this time that's what he's asking us to do,” Mancini said.

Earlier this year, the education ministry directed the EMSB to propose solutions that would help ease severe overcrowding at the CSPI, where 3000 students don’t have classroom space for next school year.

The EMSB’s the plan to move Galileo’s 140 special needs students four kilometres away to the St. Pius X Career Centre prompted an outcry from parents, who described it as a blow to adults with physical and intellectual disabilities who would struggle to adapt to the change.

Faced with questions from Liberal education critic Marwah Rizqy at the National Assembly on April 11, Roberge denounced the proposal, saying “the involuntary and harmful displacement of young adults who have special needs…should never have been put on the table… We will take every possible means to avoid this transfer, by putting other avenues forward and protecting these vulnerable people.”

In reaction to the education minister’s instructions outlined in the letter, EMSB spokesperson Mike Cohen said he thinks Roberge has been misinformed about the impact of the plan to move the special needs students from Galileo to another school. The Council of commissioners discussed the matter during a public meeting Wednesday night, he said. Cohen added he believes the information the school boards will present to Roberge can convince him to change his mind.

But speaking to CTV News on Thursday, Roberge reaffirmed his opposition to moving Galileo students.

“It was pretty clear that I don't want them to go with this situation. I don't want them to move those children with special needs, and I don't think that they will do so – so it's a question that we won't have to go to because I'm pretty sure that they won't move those children,” Roberge said.