Montreal

Pierrefonds's Riverdale High forced to close, building to be handed over to French board

Quebec's Education Ministry is forcing the closure of Riverdale High School in the West Island to accommodate an overflow of students at one of Montreal's French-language school boards.

Quebec's education minister announced he would enact a rarely-used section of the Education Act

Riverdale High School, located in Pierrefonds, was founded in 1964. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

Quebec's Education Ministry is forcing the closure of Riverdale High School in the West Island to accommodate an overflow of students at one of Montreal's French-language school boards.

The building in Pierrefonds will be taken over by the French-language Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (CSMB) as of July.

Next year, the 300-odd students who would have enrolled at Riverdale, which is part of the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB), will be required to attend different schools.

That means students like Chloe Adamcik, who is in Grade 9, won't be able to graduate with many of her friends.

"It's upsetting," she said. "Now my friends are going to split up, and I'm not going to be with the same people."

A spokesperson for Education Minister Jean-François Roberge's office confirmed Monday the minister intends to use section 477.1.1 of the Education Act to "accelerate the transfer" of this school to the CSMB. 

"After looking at all the possibilities and discussing with all the parties, the solution for the next school year is to transfer Riverdale High School to the CSMB," Roberge said in a statement. 

The two school boards had been in discussions for almost a year to explore different options to deal with the CSMB's "extraordinary influx" of newly registered students including new immigrants.

CSMB president Diane Lamarche-Venne said the board's first priority was to find a quick solution to that problem, and that the school board is very happy with this solution. 

Were there other options?

Noel Burke, chair of the LBPSB, said it would be immoral not to give the space they have to the CSMB. 

"These are public buildings," he said.

But, in a statement, Burke said he's concerned by the province's move. 

"I am worried by the minister's decision to accelerate this process while alternative options may still be possible," Burke said. 

Riverdale and Lindsay Place High School in Pointe-Claire started hosting more than 80 students from the CSMB this month. 

The transfer announced Monday would make room for 770 CSMB students, bringing the total number of spots vacated by the LBPSB to meet the CSMB's needs to 1,200, the ministry said.

Next year, the 300-odd students who would have enrolled at Riverdale, which is part of the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB), will be required to attend different schools. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Jared Pellatt, the parent of a Grade 11 student at Riverdale High, said his main concern is losing the English-language programs offered at the school.

"There are adult education programs. Is that going to continue?" he told Daybreak. "Will that continue in a French-only manner?"

Pellatt said sharing hallways but not classrooms was a better solution than closing the English side altogether.

"It was interesting and it almost showed the uniqueness of Quebec, where French and English can work side by side. It doesn't have to be one or the other," Pellatt said.

'Extraordinary and rare power'

Gregory Kelley, a Liberal MNA and the Opposition critic for issues affecting the anglophone population, said his party is extremely disappointed Riverdale is closing down.

"[Roberge] has decided to use a very extraordinary and rare power to close down an English school without consulting teachers parents or the communities on that front," Kelley said.

He said the decision disregards the students' perspectives. 

"This [is] a minister who has a plan to first and foremost get rid of school boards," Kelley said. "[It] seems that he'll have more power to continue to close our schools without going through the process of consulting the community."

Quebec's English School Boards Association called it a "gross infringement on local autonomy and on the powers of duly elected school board commissioners."

"It is unacceptable to us," QESBA President Dan Lamoureux in a statement. 

Christopher Skeete, the CAQ's parliamentary secretary responsible for relations with the English-speaking community, said Roberge's decision was necessary.

He pointed out that Riverdale was at 50 per cent capacity, while schools in the CSMB are bursting at the seams. 

"This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone at Lester B. Pearson," he said on Daybreak. "The minister, at the end, decided that kids have a right to education."

A spokesperson for Education Minister Jean-François Roberge's office confirmed the minister intends to use section 477.1.1 of the Education Act to "accelerate the transfer" of this school to the CSMB. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Riverdale was founded in 1964 and bills itself as a "true melting-pot in a multicultural city," according to its website.

It's a small school, but one Riverdale teacher says that allows her to be more attuned to what's happening in her students' lives. 

"You know what's happening with their backgrounds, they all know each other, and everyone takes care of everyone," said Valerie Jack. 

With files from Jay Turnbull and CBC's Daybreak

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