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School board closings looming
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 1er décembre 2011

Photo: Marie Cicchini

Albert Perez and CDN-NDG borough council members marched with about 200 supporters from Royal Vale HS to the EMSB to protest plans to relocate their school.

The English Montreal School Board is set to hold public consultations on Dec. 5, 6, 7, 8 at its head office on Fielding Ave. in NDG to examine proposals to close, merge, and relocate schools and programs.

The EMSB will make its final decision on proposed changes only in January 2012 after parents whose children’s schools are up for consultation have had the opportunity to make the case for their schools remaining open.

However, deciding which schools to close may turn out to be the least of its problems. François Legault, populist leader of the new provincial party Coalition Avenir Québec, has vowed to abolish school boards altogether, raising the stress level for both commissioners and parents alike, already locked in a confrontation over school reorganization.

In an effort to revamp the network for 2012-13 and save money in the face of declining enrollment, the EMSB has put as many as seven schools on the chopping block, and is planning to make some hotly contested changes to others.

Students at Royal Vale High School may be moved to the Palatucci Centre - formerly known as Wagar High School – in Côte Saint-Luc, while the student population at Carlyle School in the Town of Mount Royal could be relocated to Coronation School in Côte-des-Neiges.

Albert Perez, school commissioner for Ward 3 in NDG where Royal Vale High School is located, can’t fathom the reasons for these changes. “The move of Royal Vale HS to Côte Saint-Luc makes absolutely no sense,” he said, adding that a survey by the Royal Vale High School Governing Board shows that 88% of parents oppose it.

Because Royal Vale HS is designated by the Quebec government as a special projects school – meaning that it specializes in math and sciences, and offers its programs in an enriched learning environment, with a mandate for French immersion – it is open to students everywhere in the metropolitan Montreal region, including off-island. So, it is crucially important that it be centrally located.

Outraged parents, backed by community supporters, marched from Royal Vale HS to the EMSB on Wednesday afternoon on Nov. 23 to protest plans to relocate their school. Perez, whose son attends Royal Vale HS, was among the protesters. He estimated that the size of the crowd was around 200 or more persons.

The prospect of school board closings, as well as individual schools, is a particularly sensitive issue for the English-speaking community. The network of English school boards has traditionally been a bulwark of support for the anglophone community which has little effective representation at any level of government.

In any case, all school boards, both French and English, broker the interests of the communities that they serve and represent their cultural, linguistic and religious, as well as pedagogical interests.

For these reasons, some legal experts say that they cannot simply be abolished. School boards are constitutionally guaranteed by the British North America Act and are an integral part of democratic governance.

By the same token, school commissioners are elected representatives of their respective constituencies. They don’t have the same status as the civil servants who would staff the “resource centres” that Legault is now proposing as an alternative to school boards.

In a recent letter to The Gazette, Marcus Tabachnick, former chairman of the Lester B. Pearson School Board, accused Legault of using school boards as a wedge issue to force a constitutional crisis in spite of his professed desire to put the question of separation on hold.

He said that the courts, up to the Supreme Court, would uphold the legal status of school boards, giving Legault a pretext to call for a referendum on Quebec’s future, on the grounds that Quebec’s right to govern within its own borders had been challenged by the federal government.

[ Deborah Rankin ]

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