Angry, scared, and frustrated parents faced English Montreal School Board commissioners on Monday in an emergency meeting to discuss a plan being forced upon the board by the Ministry of Education.

Several hundred parents rallied in front of the school board offices to demonstrate that their schools are a community that should not be broken apart by government whim.

Yet that's exactly what the Education Ministry is planning to do come September.

"Parents are devastated," said Maria Corsi of the Committee to Save our East-End Schools.

"They're angry. They want their voice to be heard. Thus far parents have not been consulted on any decision regarding their schools."

Last week Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge gave the board an ultimatum: he was going to use executive powers to take three east-end schools from the EMSB and give them to the Commission Scolaire de Pointe de l'Ile, unless the EMSB came up with another plan by June 10.

That left the EMSB scrambling, and on Monday evening the board held a special meeting to discuss what was going on and to brainstorm.

Vice-chair Joe Ortona said that the Ministry's plan is a lot of disruption considering moving students out of Galileo school would be more efficient.

"The Galileo proposal was going to provide 60 classes in one building,. The proposal that you're hearing now, taking your three schools, provides 65 classes" said Ortona.

Hundreds of parents of students at Gerald McShane, General Vanier, and John Paul I schools packed into the audience chamber, hallways, and anywhere they could stand in order to hear and be heard.

"We need to unite as a community to defend our schools and essentially defend our community," said Corsi.

The meeting also gave parents a chance to vent their anger at the board's members.

"Unfortunately you've shown to these people you can't get it together," said one frustrated parent at the meeting. "We need to find a way to keep these communities alive."

Many people in attendance said they were ready for an angry fight with the Ministry to do just that.


Being held hostage

Vice-chair Joe Ortona said that Roberge's ultimatum was unfair, giving the board 30 days to do what is normally required to take at least a year.

He said the board should head to court to block Roberge's plan, citing the guarantees in the constitution regarding education rights for Quebec's anglophone minority.

"If the minister takes these buildings or any buildings, I am ready to go to court," said Ortona.

"I feel that the fight that we're going to have to go through is much bigger than those three schools. It's not just about your children, it's about the next generation and the schools that are going to be around when your children's children go to school," said Ortona.

Board chair Angela Mancine and commissioner Sylvia Lo Bianco said it would be better to work with the Education Ministry and come up with some other alternative to keep the buildings, saying the Minister had a lot of special powers that could be used to avoid the courts.

Lo Bianco said it should be possible for both school boards to share certain buildings with the Commission Scolaire de Pointe de l'Ile, pointing out that Roberge wants outside-the-box thinking.


Schools create community

Many parents said on Monday they recognized that they were dealing with a very complex and difficult situation, and all of them stressed that these English schools and the community are like family to them.

"Although the majority has a right, our minority English communities also have the same rights," said one parent.

Parents said the combination of teachers, friends, and in some cases services for special needs students, are crucially important to creating a community that was more than just using a common language.

They said that having English schools was crucial, especially in the east end of Montreal where services for anglophones are often hard to come by.

They also wanted to know how come overcrowding in the French board had become so extreme, and Ortona said the Ministry only informed the EMSB in January.

Ortona said that when it was asked by Roberge to find space for the 2019-2020 school year it offered the only space it could: the adult-education facility at Galileo school.

According to provincial law school children can only be moved from their building following a public consultation period of at least one year, while adult students can be moved at any time.

Roberge said that he did not want to move what he called "vulnerable" adults and would rather move anglophone children instead.