Quebec says the English school board serving Montreal must come up with a suitable solution to overcrowding in the French-language system or the education minister will unilaterally transfer three anglophone schools to the French board within three months.
The plan targeting three English schools in the city’s northeastern corridor was confirmed by Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge on Friday.
Roberge told a news conference the English Montreal School Board has until June 10 to reach an agreement with the provincial government. Otherwise, he said he would use a section of the Education Act allowing him to force a transfer.
“All of this is conditional on if a deal isn’t reached,” Roberge said. “What we hope for is an agreement that respects the needs of the communities.”
Roberge said he was upset a letter he sent to the English board was leaked and that many parents found out about the potential closures through the media.
His letter stated the English board will have to surrender General Vanier and Gerald McShane elementary schools as well as John Paul I High School to the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l’Ile.
“It’s urgent to act — no one denies that,” Roberge said. “At Pointe-de-l’Ile, there’s a real lack of space.”
Roberge said the French board is short 3,000 spots and will need the buildings by September to ease overcrowding. Meanwhile, enrolment in the English schools is dwindling in the predominantly francophone district.
Thus far, the English board has proposed giving up an adult education centre, but Roberge has nixed that decision given the school is home to 100 adult special needs students.
English board chair Angela Mancini told reporters Friday her team is trying to come up with other proposals, which could include sharing schools.
“The transfer of schools poses a logistical challenge for us,” Mancini said. “But more importantly, it has an effect on students, families and our employees.”
The Quebec English School Boards Association called the Quebec government’s ultimatum appalling and said Roberge needed to consider the impact on the community.
“Especially within the English-speaking community in Quebec, this is why there are necessary dispositions in the Education Act specifically for consultations,” said association president Dan Lamoureux in a statement.
Roberge said he has given the board one last chance to come up with a solution.
“I invite them not to view what’s happening today as the end,” Roberge said. “But a final chance to come to an agreement that will be satisfactory to everyone.”