The number of Hasidic children in Montreal being educated at home has jumped dramatically over the past two years, following a crackdown by the Quebec government on ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools.
There are currently 705 Hasidic children registered to be supervised by the English Montreal School Board. That is a threefold increase since 2015, said Angela Mancini, the school board's chair.
"When you're at 705 children, that's a school," Mancini told Radio-Canada. "That's like a small school."
The increase comes as Quebec education officials have been attempting to better regulate the schooling of Hasidic children, due to concerns that many attend schools that don't follow the provincial curriculum.
Last summer, a school in the Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough was raided by youth protection workers, escorted by police.
As part of the crackdown, the government has encouraged parents in the Hasidic community to sign home-schooling contracts with school boards.
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To begin taking exams
The demand for such contracts has proven so great that the EMSB has had to hire additional staff. In addition, the school board will start administering French, English and math exams to home-school students.
"These are children who haven't written exams in the past. They don't have the same path as the students in our schools," Mancini said.
"The goal of the exams is really to ensure that the children have all the capacities, all the possibilities to succeed — to not put them in a failing situation."
Only certain students, at first, will write exams, but eventually all of them will, Mancini added. The long-term goal is to have the students write province-wide ministerial exams as well.
Many of the Hasidic children enrolled in home-schooling programs still attend private Orthodox schools, where they receive religious instruction. At home, they are taught standard subject matter.
At least one religious school, Yeshiva Toras Moshe Academy, has said it will help prepare its students for the school board exams.
"We obviously want to help them prepare," Jacob Maman, who heads the school's support services. "This is something different from what they've experienced in the past."