Creating schools that specialize in arts or sports in the English Montreal School Board will be discussed in meetings next month as one way to help keep more schools from closing.
EMSB enrolment has been declining steadily in recent years, and the board hopes the so-called focus schools, which specialize in a particular program area, might prevent more school closures, said Syd Wise, who is heading the focus school commission.
"We obviously would like to expand our population base and we're hopeful that the focus school will allow us to be, perhaps, more competitive vis-a-vis the private sector," he told CBC News.
Classes at the schools under consideration would centre on sports or fine arts, Wise said, but the EMSB knows that some may suggest programs organized around religion and race.
In Côte-St-Luc, Mayor Anthony Housefather said he plans to propose reopening Wagar High School, which has been closed since 2005, as a focus school, possibly with a specialized swimming program or religion-based curriculum.
"Another option would be a heritage Jewish program at the school which would allow a lot of the kids in the community who want to have some more Jewish education than you would get in a normal public school to go to a local public school," he said Wednesday.
Some groups of parents are asking for an alternative school for black students similar to one recently approved by the Toronto District School Board.
The commission wasn't initially thinking of religion or ethnically based focus schools when it decided to study the idea, Wise said, but if there's sufficient demand from parents, commissioners will hear them out.
"That's not the direction we would like to go. We would like parents to understand that when we talk about focus schools we're not talking about race and religion," he said.
"We're talking about particular talents that kids have and making sure that we're able to develop these talents or give them an opportunity to develop their own talents."
The public hearings will be held in Montreal in May.