As Canada gets set to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, the Lester B. Pearson School Board says it would welcome refugee children – but it can't without an exemption to Quebec's language law, Bill 101.

The English-language school board  is composing a letter to the Quebec government, asking Premier Philippe Couillard to consider allowing the refugees to attend its schools.

The school board, one of Quebec's largest, oversees English-language schools from Verdun to the West Island and further west, off-island.

"We feel that the humanitarian clause of Bill 101 should be invoked to allow us to help these refugees and to help Quebec succeed in bringing these refugees in," the board's chairwoman, Suanne Stein Day, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Bill 101 — Quebec's language law — specifies that only immigrants to Quebec who have parents who were educated in English in the province or elsewhere in Canada can go to English-language schools. Exceptions can be made in rare cases, for example, for humanitarian reasons.

"I can't think of a larger humanitarian situation than bringing this number of children into our midst," Stein Day said.

Declining enrolment

The school board serves approximately 21,000 students in the youth sector and another 8,700 in its continuing education sector, but enrolment is on the decline at both the elementary and high school level.

Only 12 of the Lester B. Pearson board's 50 elementary and secondary schools expect to see increased enrolment between now and 2017-2018, according to the school board's own projections. 

Stein Day argues that the French-language schools boards on the island of Montreal are already over-capacity and therefore could not accommodate the refugee students.

"We have the capacity, and we have the resources," she said.