Parents, students left heartbroken as fate of 3 English schools hang in balance

Parents are in shock, and unsure where to send their children in September after Tuesday's announcement.

100s of families at Gerald McShane, General Vanier, John Paul Junior schools will be impacted

Nathalie Carrier, centre, stands with two other moms outside Gerald McShane. She was in shock after hearing her daughter won't be able to continue attending the school. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Nathalie Carrier went to Gerald McShane Elementary School. So did her brother. She was hoping all her children would, too.

But her youngest, now in kindergarten, could soon be forced to move to another school at the end of the year.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge confirmed Tuesday that he was starting the process of transferring three English-language schools in Montreal to a French-language board.

"For me, I can't believe it," Carrier said outside the school in Montréal-Nord, which she said has been a cornerstone of the community for decades.

"This is like my home," she said. "We gave [Roberge] everything he wanted. He doesn't accept what we are giving him."

The news was a blow for hundreds of families like the Carriers at Gerald McShane Elementary, General Vanier Elementary and John Paul I Junior High schools.

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For some, the way he delivered it, in an interview on a French radio station, was a sign of disrespect.

"It's very disappointing, first of all, to hear that he was addressing the francophones," said Laura Zuanigh, whose youngest child is in Grade 5 at General Vanier.

Her three others have already graduated from the elementary school.

Laura Zuanigh said she was disappointed that Education Minister Jean-François Roberge would announce the future of an English school on French radio. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Geoffrey Chambers, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, said if Roberge wanted to soften the blow with the English speaking community, he should have revealed the news on an English media outlet.

Chambers said the EMSB tried in good faith to help the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île (CSPI) find classroom space, and that English boards shouldn't be forced to solve problems they didn't create.

"I think this government is not very well connected to, knowledgeable about, or concerned with the interests of the English-speaking community," he said.

Chambers said Roberge doesn't have the constitutional right to force the transfer and he will likely face a legal challenge.

The question of how to solve the space shortage at the CSPI has been playing out for months.

The French-language board, which serves Montreal's east end, says it needs space for close to 3,000 students.

June 10 deadline up

In early May, Roberge sent a letter to the EMSB saying he wanted the three schools to go to the CSPI.

He set a June 10 deadline for the school boards to come up with a solution. On Tuesday, he stressed that the two school boards sharing buildings wasn't viable in the long term.

He offered a suggestion — the EMSB could rent out schools to the CSPI, with no cohabitation, for 18 months and see how that goes.

"It's not over," he said. "There are still some days, and I think they can use those days to come to an agreement."

If not, Roberge said the transfer requires cabinet approval, which could take just under two weeks.

His comments left parents worried not much more can be done.

"The minister keeps saying he's open to solutions, but what solutions? I don't know what else to propose. If we want to keep our schools, cohabitation is the way to go," said Zuanigh.

With reporting by Simon Nakonechny and Steve Rukavina