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ecole secondaire Jules-Verne in Vancouver, British Columbia, April 7, 2016.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled a year ago that the minority rights of francophone students in Vancouver are being violated because they do not receive the same school services as their English counterparts.

But parents say the B.C. government is continuing its efforts to avoid addressing the situation.

The court agreed students at École Rose-des-vents primary school – the only publicly funded French-language elementary school for children living west of Main Street in Vancouver – were in overcrowded classrooms and had limited access to outdoor space.

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The legal battle is not over, as the province is challenging the nature of the breach and the issue is back before the Supreme Court of B.C.

In the legislature on Thursday, B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver asked Education Minister Mike Bernier why the government has not fixed the problem.

In response, Mr. Bernier said the Vancouver School Board has "lots of empty space" and suggested the VSB and the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF), which administers French-language school boards in the province, could work together on the issue.

That response provided little assurance to Joe Pagé, a parent who has been involved with court actions that date back to 2010 about overcrowding and lack of services at École Rose-des-vents.

"I think what [Mr. Bernier] meant was that if there are schools that are available and are going to be vacated by the VSB, then maybe those schools would be an answer – and I agree," Mr. Pagé said in an interview shortly after the exchange in Victoria.

"But we have been talking about this for 10 years, and the VSB has been part of the discussion. … It's a convenient way of stalling, in my view," he added.

Unless the government directs the VSB to make one or more sites available, the CSF cannot force the issue, Mr. Pagé said.

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Mr. Bernier was not available for comment. In an e-mailed statement, the ministry said it is "committed to ensuring these students have the space they need to learn and succeed" and that the idea of using space in VBS schools has merit. The ministry said it was unable to comment about the specifics of the case because it is before the courts.

École Rose-des-vents was set up in 2001 as a temporary primary school intended to house 199 students. It currently has 357 students.

"The school is overcrowded and enrolment is growing," the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling said. "[The school] is small and the classrooms are significantly smaller than those in other schools … roughly 85 per cent of students attending [the school] are transported to school by bus and over two-thirds of those have bus trips of more than 30 minutes per trip."

By contrast, English-language schools in the catchment area are bigger, have better playing fields and more spacious libraries, the ruling said.

Parents of children at the school in 2010 went to court to argue that conditions at the school breached their minority language rights, which include the right to facilities equivalent to those provided for students speaking the majority language.

The Supreme Court of B.C. ruled in the parents' favour, but the province won on appeal. The case then went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which last year ruled that a breach had occurred and also noted that the parents' petition "was initiated largely as a means to compel the Province and the CSF to live up to existing obligations."

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While École Rose-des-vents is bursting at the the seams, the Vancouver School Board is grappling with declining enrolment in some of its schools. The VSB is open to leasing vacant schools to CSF, but that could only happen in accordance with its policy on school closings, which includes a lengthy consultation period, board chair Mike Lombardi said.

In a long-range facilities plan, released in January, the VSB said it might need to close up to 13 schools by 2030. The plan also identifies six potential new ones, including two in the Olympic Village and Coal Harbour neighbourhoods.

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