Province to transfer 2 of 3 imperiled EMSB schools to French school board

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge has announced he will transfer General Vanier Elementary and John Paul Junior High schools to the overcrowded Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l’Île. The only English elementary school left in Montréal-Nord, Gerald McShane, is to remain open.

General Vanier Elementary and John Paul Junior High schools will be handed over to Pointe-de-l’Île board

EMSB Chair Angela Mancini said the English board would be 'reviewing all recourses available to us' before meeting Tuesday with parents and staff at the two schools the board is losing. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge has announced he will transfer General Vanier Elementary and John Paul Junior High schools from the English Montreal School Board to the overcrowded Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île.

Gerald McShane Elementary School in Montréal-Nord will stay open as an English-language school.

In a letter to parents sent Thursday evening, Roberge said the transfers would happen over the summer.

He said it was a "difficult decision" but a necessary one because of the serious lack of space at the French-language board's schools. 

"I read your letters. I met some of you affected by these measures, and I listened to your grievances," he said in the letter.

"The current situation left us no other choice."

The building housing Gerald McShane won't be transferred, he said, because it is the only English elementary school in Montréal-Nord.

General Vanier Elementary and John Paul Junior High schools are both in Saint-Léonard.

EMSB to present contingency plan next week

The EMSB sent a news release of its own, saying it is "deeply disappointed with the decision."

The school board will hold a closed-door meeting for parents and staff from the two schools being transferred Tuesday evening at Laurier Macdonald High School. 

It says it will be presenting a contingency plan. 

"We will now review all recourses available to us," said EMSB chair Angela Mancini. In an interview later in the evening, Mancini called the letter "heartwrenching."

"It's not a good situation to be in as a board."

The Pointe-de-l'Île board, which serves French-language students, including many recent arrivals to Quebec, in 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. 

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge had said he wanted to tell parents directly whether the transfers of three EMSB schools will take place. (CBC)

In early May, Roberge sent the EMSB a letter saying he was prepared to transfer the three schools to the overcrowded board. Parents at the schools were outraged by the prospect of their children having to change schools by the fall and staged protests.

Roberge gave the school boards a month to come up with an alternative.

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

The Pointe-de-l'Île board rejected the offer of cohabitation last month.

'The worst roller coaster'

Ava Zaruso just finished her Second Grade at General Vanier. She says, to her, it's been more than a school. 

"When I heard the news I felt really sad. I wanted to cry," Ava told CBC outside the school Thursday evening. "I don't know where I'm going to go."

Ava Zaruso, middle, says General Vanier Elementary is more than a school to her. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

Her father, Antonio Zaruso, said it's like a whole community is getting taken away from them. 

"This has been the worst roller coaster," he said. "Come September 2019, I cannot tell you where my daughter is going."

'No choice,' says Premier Legault

In an interview on CBC Montreal's Daybreak Thursday morning, Premier François Legault said his government was left with no choice but to make the changes so unpopular with English-language Quebecers.

"Unfortunately, the preceding government didn't plan well, and we have a large lack of space," he said.

Listen to the full interview:

With files from Antoni Nerestant