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Quebec rolls back proposal forcing English CEGEP students into three French-language classes

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Quebec's governing party has tabled an amendment to its language bill, Bill 96, that will soften the requirements for English-speaking CEGEP students.

Students would no longer be required to take three core college classes in French under the new amendment tabled Tuesday by the Coalition Avenir Quebec.

Now, instead of taking three regular courses in French in order to graduate -- the original proposition -- students will now only need to take three French courses where they can continue working on learning the language, if the amendment is adopted.

The change would take effect in fall 2024.

The requirement applies even to rights-holding English students, some of whom have limited French after attending English schools right up until CEGEP.

Critics said these students would risk failing courses in their intended programs if forced to do them in their second language, putting their university admissions in danger.

The move comes after this uproar, including from English CEGEPs and students, over the original proposition, which was tabled by the Liberals in the studies of the bill at the National Assembly.

MNA David Birnbaum initially championed the amendment, but later called it “a mistake” in an interview with CTV.

The Liberals tried to take the proposition back, but other MNAs at the committee blocked the move.

LISTEN ON CJAD 800 RADIO: SJB amends the CEGEP portion of Bill 96

The minister responsible for French, Simon Jolin-Barrette, believes allowing students to keep learning French at their own level is still going to strengthen the language, according to a statement from his office.

“The Minister reflected on the amendment and decided allowing three French classes and not core classes respects the spirit of the bill to ensure Quebecers have a good knowledge of French," said the statement.

This represents a change of heart for Jolin-Barrette, who, when first asked by the Liberals to overturn their initial amendment, refused to hold a vote right away -- instead, the opposition forced a quick vote against his wishes.

ADVOCATES PLEASED, WITH SOME RESERVATIONS

On Tuesday evening, English-speakers' advocates said they were happy with the news, though they were waiting for more details.

"We are relieved," said Katherine Korakakis, the president of ECPA, the English Parents' Committee Association.

"However, there are many questions that still need to be answered," she said.

"What happens with special needs students? What will be done to improve the quality of French in the elementary and high schools?"

There are also a multitude of other problems with Bill 96, she said, that this change doesn't address, including the "freeze" on English CEGEP admissions.

LISTEN ON CJAD 800 RADIO: What do CEGEPs think about this latest amendment to Bill 96?

Colin Standish, who just hours earlier had announced the creation of a new provincial party to defend English-speakers' rights, told CTV News that the rollback doesn't change his plans, or the need for the party, in his opinion -- he's challenging the Liberals, and this is just one example of why, he said.

"It was a poor policy decision nonetheless," he said of the Liberals.

"The [Quebec Liberal Party] has caused this issue through their own decision and their own party policy. It was in their 27-point plan on French, release[d] a month before the Bill 96 was announced." 

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