Province's handling of French education shows 'lack of respect,' say concerned parents, teachers

The province has reassigned its administrator of French-language education, which has a group of parents and educators worried that there are more cuts to come for Francophone and French immersion schools in Manitoba.

Education spokesperson says 'same level of funding,' slight increase for division

Brigitte L'Heureux, the executive director of Fédération des parents du Manitoba, says the province is taking away resources from the French arm of the Ministry of Education. (Marie-Lise Mormina/CBC)

The province has reassigned its administrator of French-language education, which has a group of parents and educators worried that there are more cuts to come for Francophone and French immersion schools in Manitoba. 

At a news conference on Monday, Partners for French Education claimed that the Bureau de l'éducation française has been gutted.

"The absence of consultation leaves us with the impression of a lack of respect for French minority language students, parents and community partners in Manitoba," said Brigitte L'Heureux, the executive director of Fédération des parents du Manitoba.

French-language education in Manitoba is run by the Bureau de l'éducation française, a division of Manitoba Education. It develops curriculum for immersion and French schools, provides educational support services, supplies French-language resources to public libraries and does professional development with educators. 

There had been an assistant to the deputy minister focused on French education, but that position has been cut, they say, its functions transferred to the former English assistant to the deputy minister, and the staffer reassigned. 

The assistant to the deputy minister oversaw the department and "brought issues in French-language education directly to decision-makers in government," L'Heureux said.

Unique needs

"French-language education is not simply the translation of English education, but a unique educational and cultural experience with a curriculum of its own," she added.

"A fully functioning Bureau de l'éducation française is essential to the quality of French-language education that Manitoba educators and schools provide to our children." 

The group held a meeting at the end of October after learning the assistant to the deputy minister was reassigned. They sent a letter to Premier Brian Pallister highlighting their concerns about French education in Manitoba, asking for a meeting by Nov. 10.  

On Nov. 7, the group learned their letter had been received but no meeting has been arranged to date. 

In addition to losing the assistant to the deputy minister, the group claims other positions in the Bureau have been cut, reassigned to English services or sit vacant.

Bernard Lesage, chair of the Franco-Manitoban School Division, said the group didn't know the amount of funds diverted from the Bureau but "the budget obviously went down because they either transferred positions on the English side or they cut positions."

They are calling on the province to restore government funding and resources to the Bureau de l'éducation française  and reinstate an assistant to the deputy minister to represent French-language stakeholders' concerns to the government.  

Partners for French Education could not provide a confirmation on which positions had been cut, moved or not replaced.

'Same level of funding': province

"Bureau de l'éducation française continues to provide the same quality of service with the same level of funding," a spokesperson for Education and Training Minister Ian Wishart said in an email to CBC News.

The spokesperson said the minister understands the importance of Francophone education and pointed to a 4.2 per cent increase in funding for Division scolaire franco-manitobaine this year.

"The [former assistant deputy minister] maintains an important senior advisory role in the department and [Bureau de l'éducation française] continues to benefit from his expertise," the spokesperson continued. 

The provincial spokesperson said they would meet with stakeholder groups soon.   

Members of Partners for French Education come from the Franco-manitoban School Division, Société de la francophonie manitobaine, Université de Saint-Boniface, Canadian Parents for French Manitoba, the Manitoba Teachers' Society, the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents, the Manitoba Association of Parent Councils and others.