Montreal school for students in crisis scrambles to find new home

A school that takes on students with severe behavioural difficulties from all over the region may have to close its doors after 50 years if it cannot find a new location.

French school board asked for its building back, Centre d'intégration scolaire has no choice but to move

Principal Ysabelle Chouinard of the Centre d'intégration scolaire is hugged by her former student Stéphanie Bossé. They are fighting to save the school. (Anne-Louise Despatie)

A school that takes on students with severe behavioural difficulties and those in crisis from all over the region may have to close its doors after 50 years if it cannot find a new location.

The Centre d'intégration scolaire (CIS) currently occupies a building in Montreal's Rosemont neighbourhood that belongs to the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), the province's largest school board.

But the French-language school board, which has been struggling to accommodate a boom in students in recent years due to a lack of space, has notified the centre that it needs to take back the building by summer 2019.

While the school is scrambling to find a new building, school principal Ysabelle Chouinard understands why they are being asked to leave.

"I am well aware that Rosemont is in the midst of a demographic boom and that all the schools are overflowing," said Chouinard, who taught at the school for 17 years before becoming principal.

"In any case, the school is too big for us."
The Centre d'intégration scolaire is a school that helps elementary and high school students with behavioural difficulties. After 50 years, it now has to find a new space. (Radio-Canada)

Located on 6th Avenue, the school is home to 75 students from seven different school boards.

The specialized education takes a more personal approach to help students from grades 1-9 who have severe behavioural difficulties and may have been expelled from other schools.

That is why the CIS needs its own building, said Chouinard.

"Our students are completely disorganized, in crisis," she said. "There can be hitting, there is noise, there is screaming."

"That's why it's difficult to think about cohabitation. In order for us to survive, it's not complicated — we need our own space."

The school is not alone in its plight — the CSDM has also asked Sun Youth, a community institution in the Plateau neighbourhood, to move out of its building on St-Urbain Street. If all goes according to plan, that building could be welcoming students by the 2020-2021 school year.

Little options and a lack of funding

As the deadline approaches for the school to find a new space, there are also concerns about finding an affordable location.

The school receives most of its funding from the seven school boards it serves, based on the subsidies provided for each student.

The CIS has set its sights on two possible options: moving to a building on the CEGEP Marie-Victorin campus or moving forward with a private project to buy a building in Montreal's east end.

In order to survive, Chouinard said the school has to choose between those two options, but cannot financially afford to move without more funding from the Quebec Education Ministry.

"We cannot get funding from banks," she said. "We are asking the ministry to give us at least the amount for the down payment."

'Completely unacceptable,' says former student

Marie-Audrey Cyr, who has been teaching at the school for 14 years, said it provides a unique kind of support for students who need it most.

"Every day, we don't know if the child has been through the night before or if there is an emotional issue or anything else," she said. "There are days where we cover the material, others where we do more interventions."

While each day is different and the environment is challenging, Cyr is determined for the school to remain open.

​"I hope we can continue our activities because we really are a helpful school for them," she said. "We help children who have no resources after us."
Stéphanie Bossé attended the Centre d'intégration scolaire after she was expelled from two other schools. Now, she is fighting to save it. (Radio-Canada)

Former student Stéphanie Bossé is appealing directly to the provincial government to save the school where she flourished.

Bossé, 29, struggled with hyperactivity that turned into aggressive behaviour. She was expelled from two different schools before she arrived at CIS in 2004. She now has a bachelor's degree in education.

"It's a rare school that specializes in these types of students and it's threatened with closure," she said.

"To do nothing and leave more than 70 youths with behavioural issues out in the street, without the structure that they need, is completely unacceptable."

Education Minister Sébastien Proulx told Radio-Canada did not say if there would be additional funding for CIS, he did say he was in favour of maintaining educational services, especially "last-chance services."

With files from Radio-Canada's Anne-Louise Despatie