North

Let us decide who attends French schools, say N.W.T. francophones

Francophone parents, students, teachers and school board officials are calling on the N.W.T. government to catch up with the rest of the country on French education rights.

Parents, teachers, students showed up at legislative assembly to protest new rules around admissions

Francophone parents, students, teachers and school board officials are calling on the N.W.T. government to catch up with the rest of the country on French education rights. (Richard Gleeson/CBC)

Francophone parents, students, teachers and school board officials are calling on the N.W.T. government to catch up with the rest of the country on French education rights.

They filled the gallery of the legislative assembly to capacity on Wednesday to drive their point home.

"In every other jurisdiction in Canada, except the Northwest Territories, it's the school boards that manage admissions to the schools, not the Department of Education," said Yvonne Careen, superintendent of the Commission Scolaire Francophone des Territoires du Nord-Ouest — the territory's French school board.

"Why that can't happen here is beyond us."

They were in the assembly to call for change to new rules the government set this past summer for who does and does not have the right to attend the N.W.T.'s two French schools: École Boréale in Hay River and École Allain St-Cyr in Yellowknife.

Young francophone students. The N.W.T. has two French schools: École Boréale in Hay River and École Allain St-Cyr in Yellowknife. (Richard Gleeson/CBC)
The rules broadened the number of people who can attend French schools. In addition to people with a constitutional right to a French education, they allowed francophones who are not Canadian citizens and immigrants who speak neither English or French to attend.

But those two groups lose that right once the schools reach 85 per cent of their student capacity.

"So that means if we are at 85 per cent capacity in our schools with francophones only, if some francophone immigrants move to Yellowknife or Hay River and we're already at our 85 per cent cap, we're not allowed to take those either," said Careen.

Rules aren't changing

Education Minister Alfred Moses said neither of the two schools are close to the capacity. He said he's not going to consider changing the rules, at least for now.

"I think it's better than it was when we first started this government... and when we get to those utilization rates, perhaps we can look at revisiting it."

Careen says the rules restrict the growth of the French community in the N.W.T.

The prospect of another court battle was mentioned several times during the debate.

Francophones have taken the government to court several times over the last decade and a half to defend their language rights.

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