MONTREAL - The steady reduction of the anglophone population in Quebec is taking its toll on schools in Montreal, with councillors from the English Montreal School Board debating the fates of 20 schools.

A lengthy mid-week meeting that continued into the early hours of the morning was not enough time for councillors to make a final decision, and they will meet again this coming Monday to discuss the massive re-organization of the board's schools and students.

Under the initial proposal, more than 20 schools and their students could be affected by mergers or closures.

The agenda Wednesday night was to see whether or not to take the proposed re-organization to a public consultation, but many parents didn't want to let it get that far, arriving at the meeting en masse to pledge their support for their school.

"It's just not good for the kids," said Karen Petersen, a parent of a Bancroft Elementary student. "That's why we're here tonight."

Committee recommends closing nine schools in 2012

The EMSB's long range planning committee made a series of recommendations two weeks earlier in a 256-page report.;

The crux of that report was a recommendation to close nine schools in total from a potential group of 11 by July, 2012: St Gabriel or St John Bosco, Our Lady of Pompei or St Dorothy, St Brendan, Fraser Academy, Bancroft, Carlyle, Hampstead, James Lyng High School and Nesbitt Elementary.

Another 11 schools would either be moved or merged: Vezina High School, St Raphael, Programme Mile End, Vincent Massey, Laurier MacDonald Vocational Training Centre Programs for Hairdressing, Electrolysis and Aesthetics, Perspectives II High School, Royal Vale Elementary, Royal Vale High School, Marymount Academy, Marymount Adult Centre and Shadd Business Centre.

"The enrolment is in freefall," said EMSB spokesman Mike Cohen at Wednesday night's meeting. "Losing 6,000 students in 10 years is very serious."

But the possibility of having Nesbitt Elementary was so disheartening to some, it had one parent in tears.

"You know when you cry when you're upset," said Livia Picarazzini, "and it upsets me because it's something that's so good."

Parents praise the school's extended French program and its impact on their children's language skills.

"It's been in existence for 30 years and the other schools have taken us as a model," said Judy Yankowski of Nesbitt's governing board.

Parents are also concerned about long bus rides for their children, if schools in their neighbourhoods are closed.

"It could be an hour and 20 minutes, an hour and a half," Yankowski said. "So it's a lot of travel time for the children."

Meeting will continue Monday

By the close of Wednesday's meeting the near future of a number of schools was decided.

Councillors chose not to merge St. Dorothy and Our Lady of Pompei, and decided Bancroft, Hampstead and Carlyle will remain open.

John F. Kennedy High school in St. Michel will not merge with Rosemount High school.

The fate of the remaining schools, including Nesbitt Elementary, is still up in the air.

Parents, meanwhile, will have their say during an eight-month public consultation process.

"If their school remains on the list, they're going to have ample time to prepare their case, to bring it to the commissioners when there are hearings in December," Cohen said.

This story has been updated.