'Change was needed': EMSB parents cautiously hopeful about school board reforms

The Coalition Avenir Québec government's proposed legislation to reform the province's school boards, called Bill 40, includes exceptions for the province's English-language community.

Bill 40 includes exceptions for Quebec's English-language community

Antonio Zaruso is the parent of a child who attends an English Montreal School Board school. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

A parent of three children who attend an English Montreal School Board (EMSB) school says she is cautiously hopeful about Quebec's school board reform. 

"It's hard to say how everything is actually going to take place once you're there, but I think a change was needed, and this seems to be not too much of a drastic change," said Assunta Iasenzaniro. 

Bill 40, the government's proposed legislation to reform the province's school boards that was tabled Tuesday, includes exceptions for the province's English-language community.

The bill would turn school boards into "service centres" run by a 16-person board of directors composed of parents, teachers and other members of the community. 

In the French-language system, those boards will be appointed, not elected. 

But the English-language school system will be able to vote for all but four members of the board of directors at the service centres. The four unelected members will be representatives from the school system. 

The legislation comes as the English Montreal School Board risks being put under trusteeship.

Iasenzaniro says change was needed at the EMSB. 

Parents often felt a lack of support from the board, she said. A scathing government report found the board to be dysfunctional and mismanaged.

"The way it seems that [the government is] setting it up does feel like a bit of progress," said Iasenzaniro. 

She said it's important for the government to respect the constitutional rights of the anglophone minority, which she says has a right to maintain and control its schools. 

Iasenzaniro said it will take time and effort to communicate with parents and communities whether the reform will be a step forward , . 

"That's really going to be the test to see how much they're actually open to having a positive relationship with the anglophone community." 

Community members should run boards, parent says

Another EMSB parent, Antonio Zaruso, echoed Iasenzaniro's belief that more efficacy is needed within the English school board. 

"As English-speaking minorities, we need to have a solid [blueprint] by which we can govern and manage our own institutions," Zaruso said. 

He was recently elected to his daughter's school's governing board.

Zaruso said he was disappointed when the Education Ministry transferred two English schools to the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île, a French-language board, this summer.

Earlier this year, the EMSB attempted to legally stop the transfer of two schools, including General Vanier Elementary School in Saint-Léonard. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

"It was a hard pill to swallow," Zaruso said. With the exceptions for the English system under the new bill, he hopes the government is "trying to make amends." 

Zaruso said his main concern is ensuring the representatives on the service centre board of directors will come from the community. 

"It would be fantastic if, somehow, the people involved in the service centres are from the population that makes up that school."

With files from Simon Nakonechny and Antoni Nerestant


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