Montreal·POINT/COUNTERPOINT

Should Riverdale stay in the English system? Two parents have their say

The news that Riverdale students will have to change schools next year came as a surprise to parents in Montreal’s West Island. But not everyone is against the idea.

West Island parents weigh in after the Quebec government hands Riverdale over to French school system

As of September, Riverdale High School will no longer be an English-language school. It will be transferred from the Lester B. Pearson School Board to the French school board Marguerite-Bourgeoys. (CBC)

The news came as a surprise to parents in Montreal's West Island.

The Quebec government is forcing the closure of Riverdale High School in Pierrefonds so that it could be handed over to the French's Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board.

For some, it's viewed as a positive development. French-language schools in the area are bursting at the seams.

Other parents at the Lester B. Pearson School Board, however, were left upset and worried that the move will mean the loss of English-language programs — not to mention that roughly 300 Riverdale students will have to change schools next fall.

We asked two parents with children in each school board to weigh in.

Jared Pellat is the parent of a Grade 11 student currently enrolled at Riverdale High School.

Ghislain Laporte is a parent commissioner at the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board (CSMB).

What was your reaction when you heard the news?

I never imagined our community would lose the school.- Jared  Pellat , parent of a Riverdale student

JP: My initial reaction to the news that Riverdale High School was to be closed and given over to the French school board was that of shock and disbelief. We had heard that there were discussions of opening the doors to French students, and as of last Monday there was in fact a portion of the school dedicated to educating those students. This seemed to be working well, but perhaps the Legault government did not like the harmonious situation it is creating?

Quebec is made distinct by this exact situation: two languages existing in parallel. Where else can you have a conversation in separate languages and be completely natural about it? I never imagined our community would lose the school to Marguerite-Bourgeoys.

GL: I was surprised. To my knowledge, this is one of the first times that the [education] minister exercises this power. I was aware that the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board was in talks with the Lester B. Pearson School Board to obtain more classroom space. We already have an agreement to rent out classroom in two schools, one of them being Riverdale.

Why does your community need Riverdale High?

Our schools are overflowing and this affects the quality of life in our community.- Ghislain   Laporte , CSMB parent commissioner 

JP: Riverdale has always been a community school. The school has been servicing the community for over 50 years — not just educating our students, but acting as a kind of community center as well. The doors to the school are often open during after-school hours for community events, open gym periods, and various other functions. The building also houses a number of community services such as continuing/adult education, and a program offering youths (unlikely to continue on a path of higher education) life skills to be productive members of society. If the French board discontinues these offerings, or even continues to offer them but in a strictly French setting, the immediate community will lose a valued resource.

GL: The CSMB is currently at full capacity. The registration of new students greatly surpasses the ministry's projections. Our schools are overflowing and this affects the quality of life in our community. The CSMB has made requests to the government several times for expansions or new construction. Unfortunately, obtaining approval for expansions or new construction takes time. It's also very difficult to get land in the West Island. There are many new housing projects in the area, but no capacity for schools to accept new students.

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)

What do you think about how the Quebec government handled the situation?

JP: There should have been more transparency to the proceedings leading up to the decision of Education Minister Jean-François Roberge to take the school away from the Lester B. Pearson School Board. The fact that parents, teachers, staff, and even higher ranking administrators within the school only found out by the news while waking up in the morning was appalling, but not necessarily surprising coming from the Legault government.

GL: I am not aware of the discussions the minister had with other school boards. I don't know how the minister announced his decision to the two boards — I learned about it on the news.

Where do we go from here?

JP: I greatly fear for the Anglo community here in the West island, across Montreal and even Quebec. On the heels of his election campaign stating that CAQ Leader François Legault would not try to eliminate the English school boards, here is a prime example of doing just that. By taking away schools from the board, you do just that, eliminate the board itself. Yes, Riverdale is under capacity, but where do you draw that line? If an English school is at 50 per cent, 75 per cent, 90 per cent? With this as an excuse, many schools could suffer the same fate. Perhaps if newly arrived residents could attend an English school, instead of being forced into the French board, our English schools would not be at such a low enrolment. With increasing difficulties families are facing meeting requirements for English education eligibility, it is no great surprise that student populations within these schools are diminishing.

GL: I think there needs to be better communication among all the players in the education sector in our area — ministry, school boards, cities or boroughs, parents, students — to favour the well-being of all our communities. Students are the future of our society and they should all be given the best chances to succeed.

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