MONTREAL -- Quebec's Superior Court on began hearing the legal challenge to Bill 40 on school governance on Wednesday.

The bill abolished school boards and replaced them with service centres, giving more power to parents' committees in school service centres.

However, school boards were maintained for English speakers as they battle the bill in court.

The English school boards are arguing the bill is unconstitutional, because minority groups in Canada have the right to manage their own institutions, guaranteed by section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"English school boards have the independence and autonomy to challenge certain government decisions, to push back when we believe those decisions are not completely appropriate for our network," said Russell Copeman of the Quebec English Language School Boards Association.

The QESBA, which includes the nine English school boards, sees this as an important battle to defend the rights of anglophones and control their institutions.

On Wednesday, the first witness, Stephen Burke, chair of the Central Quebec School Board, described his own experience of education in the English-language system and how he sees his role as an advocate for English-speaking rights in a predominantly French-speaking region.

"Our schools are the backbone of our communities," he said in English.

The second witness, Mary Ellen Beaulieu, from the Eastern Shores School Board in Baie-Comeau, agreed. She said she deals with "very involved parents" who are involved in performances, fundraising and other activities.

Both had to admit that several members of their council had been elected or re-elected without opposition.

Wednesday marked the first day of the ten-day hearings.

 - This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2021 with files from CTV News Montreal