EMSB readies for lengthy legal battle as it prepares school transfers
The English Montreal School Board is preparing for a long legal battle after losing its bid for a judicial stay to block the transfer of two schools to a French school board.
At a board meeting on Tuesday evening, commissioners said that while their attempt for a quick resolution failed they still have many legal possibilities at their disposal.
Last month Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge used special cabinet powers to transfer to schools from the EMSB to the Commission Scolaire de la Pointe de l'Ile.
The Board says the way that transfer was done is a violation of the English community's constitutional rights.
Board Chair Angela Mancini said the EMSB is now waiting for a court date for its constitutional challenge for the school transfer.
"When we look at Article 477.1 of the Education Act part of what we have contended all along is that the Minister has certain rights that we don't even have, and we have the right to control and manage our schools under the Constitution and that has been part and parcel of the problem," said Mancini.
The Education Act allows the Minister to transfer buildings from one board to another but the Constitution gives Canada's linguistic minorities in each province the right to control and manage their education systems as a way to ensure those communities survive.
The grey area involving those two laws and how they are supposed to mesh will be at the centre of the judicial review.
First it's expected a Superior court judge will pore over the facts and look at what happened, including why General Vanier and John Paul I were chosen to be transferred. The Board is also asking a judge to determine if there was any data to back up those specific choices.
Mancini said that part of the frustration evidenced by the Minister was apparently because of a lack of understanding of the differences in powers.
"It ends up that the Minister is able to transfer schools without justification within a 30-day period where we have a year and one day to consult. We must tell the community what the reasons are for a particular school being chosen and transferred. The Minister doesn't have those responsibilities and we do," said Mancini.
Two schools under one roof
At Wednesday's meeting the board also explained how students at General Vanier Elementary will be moved into Pierre de Coubertin, and how John Paul I students will adapt to their new home.
No children will be split up, as each school will be moved en masse to the new building and in both cases the schools will retain their own identities and staff.
There will be separate entrances for students, and children will continue to wear the same uniforms and have the same code of conduct that they are used to.
The two schools under one roof idea will be in place for least one year.
After that each school's community, including each school's board of governors, can decide if they want to merge their nearest neighbour.
Fiorenzo Vetrone, a parent with three children at General Vanier, said it all sounded like a good way to handle a decision that was forced upon them.
"I think it's important for the kids because the kids, at least my kids, have been going through this roller-coaster of emotions over these past several months, not knowing where they will be in September," he said.
"At least this way for one year they have the security of their school, their teachers, their principals, their staff, their resource teachers and so forth."
The new school year starts in mid-August from there is a lot of moving to do in the next six weeks.
With files from Max Harrold