Parents want St. Ignatius
By Joel Ceausu
The irony was not lost on anyone: Parents from the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) addressing the English Montreal School Board council of commissioners, lamenting that the French board is facing an overcapacity of 1,000 students each year for the next decade.
“The challenge is insurmountable,” said Stephanie Richard, suggesting that given the context of budgetary compressions and austerity, shouldn’t “all education resources be viewed as a collective good” regardless of language of student populations?
Indeed, while Quebec’s language law chokehold starves the English system of steady enrolment, its French counterparts are engorged on a stable diet of fresh immigration, ensuring its overpopulation.
But Richard’s comments were in context of another issue, brought by a handful of CSDM parents attending the council meeting, that of asking the EMSB to lend them its St. Ignatius building on Coronation as the neighbouring Ste. Catherine de Sienne community must vacate their school next year as the structure undergoes a three-year overhaul due to extensive water damage.
That has been a non-starter for the EMSB, board Chair Angela Mancini has said repeatedly. “Are we prepared to collaborate? Yes. Are we prepared to give you everything you ask for? Unfortunately, no. We don’t want to harm the success of our own students,” she said, referring to high school students already using that facility.
The board has offered the CSDM parents the vacant St. John Bosco building in Ville Émard, and most recently, place at Marymount Academy high school. Bosco was rejected by parents as too far and there are issues with the Marymount offer, Ste. Catherine de Sienne governing board chair Louis Simard told The Suburban.
“They would put our children on all three floors so our elementary kids would be in contact with high school students on all levels and we would have to share other spaces. Have Grade 1 and Grade 9 close together.”
He also said he is concerned about a Batshaw program at the school and the location just east of Décarie and Côte St. Luc Road. “I don’t think this is the best option for elementary school children, and we know that Marymount parents have said they do not want us to come there.”
Simard presented a petition signed by more than 250 parents asking the EMSB for its St. Ignatius facility so that the move—mere steps from their current location—would be seamless for the 300-plus French NDG students. He also raised the spectre of government intervention, stating that it was within the education minister’s powers to hand over the school.
[Quebec’s Education Act reads “….the Government may…order that the ownership of an immovable belonging to a school board be transferred to another school board so that the latter school board may establish an educational institution.”]
Mancini said “We are trying to help and we have made offers to you, but to hear ‘We want St. Ignatius and nothing else,’ for us as a school board is unacceptable: We have a responsibility to protect our students and we have every intention to do so.”
Most rational scenario
St. Ignatius is currently occupied by the Focus and Outreach alternative high school programs with some 50 students at high risk of dropping out. The EMSB says the space is required to ensure success.
Simard maintains that “the most rational and economic scenario with the least impact is St. Ignatius… Those students (at Outreach and Focus) are not only from NDG, they are from all over the island, and if the program is successful, maybe they can do it anywhere,” he says, suggesting Marymount might be a suitable home for them for the three-year period. “We have 300 NDG kids who need a school. We also have fragile students, what will that do to move them?”
“Moving our alternative schools to another place is not the best scenario,” Mancini maintained. “I have a lot of sympathy and we asked our management team to explore possibilities: We have twice offered you a school with your own yard, your own entrance. But for us it’s inconceivable to imperil the work we’ve done at Outreach and Focus: it’s not something we can negotiate.”
Simard and the other parents weren’t expecting a complete turnaround at the meeting, but showed up he said, “to get a final answer from the EMSB before we plan our next step.” Parents will be meeting to discuss their options, but it looks like the next move could be an appeal to Education Minister Yves Bolduc to step in.
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