Students, parents give Mont-Bleu school move failing grade

Some Gatineau students are protesting a decision to push all their classes to the afternoon in order to accommodate kids from a nearby school who were displaced when fire damaged their building during last Friday's violent storm.

École secondaire de l'Île students protest schedule change made to accommodate students forced out by fire

Fire damaged École secondaire Mont-Bleu last Friday, causing the board to close the school for the remainder of the academic year. (Kim Vallière/Radio-Canada)

A decision to combine the populations of two Gatineau schools following a fire at one of the buildings is earning low grades from students and parents alike.

Nearly 1,500 students from École secondaire Mont-Bleu were displaced after lightning sparked a fire during last Friday's violent storm, which produced six tornadoes across the region. 

To salvage the school year, the Commission scolaire des portages-de-l'outaouais (CSPO) announced Wednesday the students will be transferred to nearby École secondaire de l'Île for the remainder of the academic year while their own building is undergoing repairs.

To avoid overcrowding, the students will attend the school on alternating morning and afternoon schedules, the board said.

On Thursday, students from École secondaire de l'Île rallied against the new schedule, which has them attending classes only from 1:10 p.m. to 5:34 p.m. The Mont-Bleu students will have classes from 8:34 a.m. to 12:49 p.m. 

At today's protest, École secondaire de l'Île students said they'll be missing out on after-school activities, including sports, social events and opportunities for part-time jobs, because of the later end time. 

The new schedule is expected to last the entire year, with Mont-Bleu closed until the 2019-2020 school year. 

Students at École secondaire de l'Île are protesting a plan to share their school building with other students displaced by a fire. The plan would move their classes entirely to afternoons. 0:24

Parents criticize decision

Parents also criticized the decision to combine the two student populations at one school. In an open letter to the CSPO, parent Marc Molgat said it leaves the École secondaire de l'Île students at a particular disadvantage.

Molgat criticized the CSPO for failing to consult with students or parents. 

Nadine Peterson, assistant general director with the CSPO, acknowledged the situation is far from ideal, but said the board tried to find a solution that would cause the least disruption. 

"We understand that some of our students are unhappy about the decision that we took," she said. "It's not easy, and we need everybody to collaborate and work together as a team in this situation."

Pierre Menard is principal at École secondaire Mont-Bleu. (Stu Mills/CBC)

'A monumental task'

Pierre Menard, the principal at École secondaire Mont-Bleu, said there was a lot of pressure on the CSPO to find a suitable solution quickly in order for classes to resume as soon as possible.

And not just any school would do, he said. The school needed to have enough labs, classrooms and gymnasium space to accommodate twice the number of students, and be geographically close to Mont-Bleu to ease transportation challenges. 

École secondaire de l'Île fit all those criteria, he said. 

"It's a monumental task to relocate all those students," he said. "Now, we have to make sure that the students of Mont-Bleu and the students of de l'Île have success in their education for the rest of the year."

The new schedule is expected to begin Oct. 9, after Thanksgiving weekend. 

Pierre Menard, principal at École secondaire Mont-Bleu, is relocating all his students after a fire at his school. The fire was caused by a lightning strike during last Friday's storms. 0:50