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Ontario picks up tab for new French school in Etobicoke

Laurel Broten, Member of Provincial Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore talks with local parent, Tammy Quick and her daughters Mackenzie, 10 and Madison, 10 after announcing the funding of a new Elementary French language elementary school in Etobicoke for Conseil Scolaire Viamonde in Toronto.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

To keep up with the demand for French-language education, the provincial government is giving $5.2-million to fund a new Etobicoke school.

The French public school board Conseil scolaire Viamonde a year ago began an attempt to buy the closed Parkview Public School from the Toronto District School Board.

On Thursday, the province announced that it would finance the purchase, which Viamonde could not cover. The elementary school is slated to open in 2013 and have space for 200 students from Etobicoke and Mississauga.

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Viamonde wants to open more schools throughout the province to cope with growing demand, particularly in areas that have no public elementary schools that conduct all instruction in French.

"Our board is constantly increasing," said director of education Gyslaine Hunter-Perreault, adding that its population grew seven per cent in the past year. "There's growth and there's the unserved population that the ministry has an obligation to serve."

Parents must often decide whether to bus their children to French schools or keep them close to home, said Etobicoke-Lakeshore MPP Laurel Broten, who announced the funding.

Jean-Luc Marchessault, who lives a few houses away from the site of the new Etobicoke school, had to make that decision about a decade ago. He sent his eldest son to a French-language Catholic elementary school because it was the closest all-French option.

"It's a little bit late for me," said Mr. Marchessault, who is francophone. He added that he would have preferred to enroll his sons at a public French-language school.

Ontario has set aside $45-million to expand access to French education over the next three years, the government says.

"This new school is going to improve access to French-language learning and help meet the growing needs," Ms. Broten said.

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The Conseil scolaire Viamonde, which was established in 1998, runs schools from Windsor to Penetanguishene. While enrolment is shrinking at many boards, Viamonde is growing, with 8,500 students in its schools.

Enrolment is also up at the Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud, the French-language Catholic school board that has schools from the Niagara Peninsula to Peterborough, and from Toronto to Georgian Bay. More than 14,000 students are expected in its schools this fall, up from 13,000 in 2009.

In March, Viamonde threatened legal action against the TDSB and the Ministry of Education after its request for funds to buy another of the Toronto board's surplus schools was denied. It said the rejection violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms' guarantees of access to French schooling.

The matter was dropped after the ministry offered more funding for new schools, Ms. Hunter-Perreault said.

"We're certainly making progress ... [although]there are many areas that are still unserved," she said. "But we are certainly moving in the right direction."

The threatened legal action in March was over the funding to buy the downtown Essex West school. Ms. Hunter-Perreault said the French-language Catholic board is now buying that school, but that the ministry also promised funding to the public French board in May for a nearby elementary school to ease overcrowding at Pierre Elliott Trudeau school.

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Viamonde has also received $11.5-million to partner with the French-language Catholic board to open a Grade 7 to 12 school at the West Toronto Collegiate, another surplus building, Ms. Hunter-Perreault said.

Laura Therrien, who lives near the Etobicoke school, has put her 11-year-old daughter in French immersion. But she hopes her one-year-old will attend the new school, which is scheduled to open in two years.

French immersion programs are in high demand, too. At the Toronto District School Board, according to a recent report, 21,448 students were registered for 2010-2011, compared to 15,410 a decade earlier.

Ms. Therrien said she wants her kids to be in French-language school to regain their heritage.

"We lost it," she said of her family's Métis roots in the French language. "We don't even say our name like it's French."

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