Parents upset over threat of losing 3 EMSB schools

Lucia di Carlo says she couldn't sleep after she found out the school her two children attend is one of three the education minister has threatened to transfer to a French school board.

Board chair blames vice-chair for 'antagonizing the situation'

Lucia di Carlo, right, has two kids, 7 and 11, attending Gerald McShane Elementary School. She said news that the school could be transferred to the Commission scolaire de Pointe-de-l'Île was 'devastating.' (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Lucia di Carlo says she couldn't sleep after she found out the school her seven and 11-year-old attend is one of three the education minister has threatened to hand over to a French school board.

"I'm freaking out," she said as she dropped her kids off at Gerald McShane Elementary School in Montreal North Friday morning. 

Yesterday, Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge threatened the English Montreal School Board with the transfer of three buildings to the Commission scolaire de Pointe-de-l'Île: General Vanier and Gerald McShane elementary schools and John Paul I junior high.

The move came just a day after Roberge give the EMSB a May 31 deadline to find solutions other than giving up Galileo Adult Education Centre.

Pointe-de-l'Île needs space for an additional 3,000 students. It said it welcomes the "strong decision" by Roberge and that the three schools would provide a permanent solution to the board's rising enrolment.

Roberge called the proposal "insufficient." He's given the EMSB until June 10 to tell him what issues could arise from his proposal to transfer the three buildings.

In a news conference Friday Roberge said he "severely deplored" the EMSB's decision to release the news publicly, rather than tell parents and staff at the schools first.

He said the school board still has 30 days if it wants to come up with something better.

"It's urgent to act because there's a glaring lack of space to accommodate students from Pointe-de-l'Île school board," he said.

Christopher Skeete, left, the premier's point-person in working with Quebec's English-speaking community, and Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, right, address the possible transfer of three EMSB schools. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

"It should be noted that school boards have been discussing this for several years."

The transfers would happen by September, a prospect Di Carlo said she's having trouble reckoning with. 

"He can't do that, he just can't," she said, choking back tears.

"I love this school. It's a small school. We know everybody. It's like a second family. All the kids know each other, from kindergarten to sixth grade. It's devastating."


Di Carlo isn't the only parent who's upset. 

"Nooooooo!" Caroline Ferencz and her son Matteo Caputo, who also goes to Gerald McShane, said in unison. 

"Tell them how you love this school," Ferencz said to Matteo.

Matteo Caputo, left, and his mother, Caroline Ferencz, right. Matteo is supposed to take bilingual classes at Gerald McShane in September. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

"Yeah, I like it.… There's lots of art and gym and music, and you learn about lots of things."

Ferencz didn't know about the possibility of Gerald McShane being transferred to Pointe-de-l'Île until a CBC reporter informed her Friday morning.

"It's tough because we live literally around the corner, a two-minute drive," she said.

"It's just a shame because he would be starting half-French, half-English classes next year."

Ferencz said she's not sure if she would send him to another English school or would enroll him at the new French school in the same building.

EMSB chair says colleague 'antagonized situation'

Speaking on CBC Montreal's Daybreak Friday morning, EMSB chair Angela Mancini said the ministry acted faster than the school board could come up with solutions.

But she admitted Roberge gave the EMSB a list of schools he was looking at transferring on March 15. 

EMSB chair Angela Mancini says the negotiations with the education minister should have been handled better. (CBC)

She blamed vice-chair Joe Ortona for "antagonizing the situation" by making "negative comments about the minister."

When asked whether tension in the school board has affected its ability to deal with the situation, she again pointed to Ortona. 

"I think that we needed to have a posture that was very different than that of Mr. Ortona," she said.

Later in the day, Mancini said she was happy to hear the minister was still giving the EMSB those 30 days to propose other solutions. 

She said the school board planned to warn parents and staff first about Roberge's letter yesterday, but that it was leaked to media before it could do so.

The board's commissioners is inviting parents to a special meeting on the subject at the EMSB headquarters at 6000 Fielding Avenue on May 13 at 7 p.m. 

Christopher Skeete, the Laval MNA who is the premier's point-person in working with Quebec's English-speaking community, joined Roberge at the news conference Friday. 

Skeete said the EMSB should have come up with more ideas instead of reiterating its plan to give up Galileo. 

He said the board was trying "to score points, I suppose, by trying to get the community riled up. But in reality the school board has been discussing (…) these transfers for years."

"The fact that this has not already happened suggests to me that leadership was required and the minister is exercising that well-needed and much appreciated leadership," he said.

With files from Kate McKenna and CBC Montreal's Daybreak