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More than 400 Que. students waiting to attend English school amid eligibility certificate backlog

Already three weeks into the school year, hundreds of students are still waiting on Quebec's education ministry to issue eligibility certificates to attend English school, according to a group representing English-language school boards in Quebec.

The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) said the processing wait time this year is particularly bad this year as there are more than 400 students alone in the Greater Montreal Area who are waiting at home for the documents they need to attend school.

Under Quebec's language law, students who want to attend most schools in English need to prove they are eligible before a school board can accept them. The Ministry of Education confirmed to CTV News it is handling a 20 per cent increase in applications for the 2023-2024 school year compared to previous years, and that a new reform to the province's language law, commonly known as Bill 96, "may have required extra steps" in processing the certificates.

"This is not a new phenomenon, but it seems to be more acute this year," said QESBA executive director Russell Copeman in an interview on Thursday.

"It's the third week of September, and there's this backlog. And so the government must do something to speed this process up. If it requires that they hire more people, that's exactly what they should do. But this kind of a backlog, some of them date back even to the month of June. It's just unacceptable because these kids are sitting at home and not getting an education."

Over the years, school boards have developed ways to determine who is and who is not eligible, and this year, according to Copeman, the majority of cases are straightforward, meaning there shouldn't be a delay. QESBA says English school boards are losing students to the French system because of the backlog. 

"They're just lagging, and as they say, hundreds of students are being deprived of their right to attend English schools because the education department can't process these fast enough," Copeman said.

Cases that would typically be more complex to process include temporary certificates and certificates for special needs students. 

According to the education ministry, students can generally obtain an eligibility certificate if:

  • They or their sibling received most of their elementary or high school education in English in Canada
  • Their mother or father received most of their elementary or high school education in English in Canada
  • One of their parents attended school in Quebec after Aug. 26, 1977, and could have been declared eligible for English education at the time

UKRAINIAN HOCKEY PLAYERS ALSO IN LIMBO

A group of young Ukrainian hockey players who played in a Quebec City tournament last February, and have decided to return to the province for their studies, are also caught in the ministry backlog

The six youngsters arrived in Quebec City on Sept. 1 to attend the English-language St. Patrick's High School, but they are still waiting for authorization to go to school. In their cases, they are eligible because they will be in the province temporarily, however, they could only start the process after they arrived in the province.

Bryan St-Louis, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, said in a statement to CTV News that it has received "a very large number of requests to study in English" this year.

"We are working diligently to respond to the requests submitted to us as quickly as possible," St-Louis said.

The ministry also said it takes about 10 days to process a request for eligibility.

- With files from CTV News Montreal's Cindy Sherwin and The Canadian Press

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