Trio of EMSB schools now a step closer to being transferred to French-language board

General Vanier Elementary School, Gerald McShane Elementary School and John Paul Junior High School will change hands, going from the English Montreal School Board to the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île.

General Vanier, Gerald McShane and John Paul Junior schools will change hands to help solve space issues

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said he is starting the process to transfer three English-language schools to the Commission scolaire de Pointe-de-l'Île. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge says he will start the process of transferring three English-language schools in Montreal to a French-language board.

Roberge said Tuesday the transfer of General Vanier Elementary School, Gerald McShane Elementary School and John Paul Junior High School would need cabinet approval, which could take just under two weeks.

"This is about putting students first — whether they are anglophone or francophone, an empty classroom doesn't help anyone, and no one wins when a school doesn't have a cafeteria, no English class, no music class," he said.

The Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île (CSPI), which serves Montreal's east end, needs space for close to 3,000 students.

The debate over how to address that space issue has been dragging on for months. 

In early May, Roberge sent the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) a letter saying he wanted the three schools to change hands. He gave the school boards a month to come up with an alternative.

The EMSB's solutions all involved cohabitation in some form, but Roberge doesn't appear to be interested in that as a long-term option.

He said the influx of students to the French-language board is being driven in part by the need for more welcome classes, which are geared toward helping children learn French quickly and adapt to life in Montreal.

Roberge expressed concern about those classes taking place in an English environment.

While the process to transfer the schools has started, it can be stopped, Roberge said, so there is still time for the two boards to come up with other solutions.

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

But he said he can't impose that suggestion on the boards, because the Education Act only gives him the power to transfer schools.

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

Decision poorly communicated, EMSB says

EMSB chair Angela Mancini said she learned about the minister's decision to start the process to transfer the schools from his comments on a French-language radio station this morning.

While the EMSB will still try to find solutions, Mancini said announcement should not have been made on the radio.

"We all maybe expected [the announcement], but I think it would have been incumbent upon the minister to have a conversation with us to say, 'This is the direction we're going in,' or make some kind of announcement," she said on CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Listen to Angela Mancini's full Daybreak interview:

Jean-Francois Roberge has said that he is starting the process to transfer 3 EMSB schools to the French school board. The news came as a surprise to the EMSB. We speak to the chair, Angela Mancini. 9:52

Roberge said the deadline was clear, and the fact that he was moving forward with his plan should not have come as a surprise to the EMSB.

Mancini said since the minister is preparing to hand the CSPI three buildings, she isn't sure the board will be motivated to return to the negotiation table.

The students in welcome classes could be kept separate, she said, pointing out many EMSB schools have French immersion programs where students learn French and speak it among themselves.

Mancini said next steps will be discussed at an EMSB board meeting Wednesday night.

Uncertainty for next school year

Tuesday's announcement left families wondering what's next.

Marc-André Côté's nine-year-old daughter currently attends the same school he did when he was her age — Gerald McShane in Montréal-Nord.

It's a shame the school is closing, he said after hearing the news this morning, and now he doesn't know where his daughter is going to be attending school next year.

Marc-André Côté said he was disappointed to hear his daughter is going to have to change schools because Gerald McShane Elementary is being transferred to another school board. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

"I don't know what options are ahead of us," he said.

"If we're going to be losing the school, then obviously we're gonna have to start looking out of sector. I'm very disappointed."

with files from Kate McKenna


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