English schools in West Island will fill empty classrooms with French students

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WATCH: Two West Island school boards have arranged a swap of sorts. Faced with overcrowding, some students from the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board will be sent to English schools in the Lester B. Pearson School Board. As Global's Dan Spector explains, the move will help populate empty classrooms in the English system – Dec 19, 2018

Overcrowded French schools in Montreal’s West Island will soon be sending students to English schools in the Lester B. Pearson School Board.

“There are empty classes and we will use them for the benefits of our children,” said Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge.

Schools within the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board are jam packed.

“At Marguerite-Bourgeoys, they stopped registering new students in October because they were over capacity,” Lester B. Pearson Board chair Noel Burke told Global News.

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At the same time, some classrooms in Lester B. Pearson schools sit empty.  The solution became clear.

“What we’re making available in January are eight classrooms at Lindsay Place High School in Pointe-Claire and six classrooms in Riverdale High School in Pierrefonds,” said Burke.

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Enrollment at English schools has been dropping steadily over the years. Bill 101, the province’s language charter, only allows students to attend English-language schools if they have at least one parent who studied at an English school in Quebec or Canada.

As a result, fewer and fewer students are enrolled in English schools in Quebec.

The opposite is true at French schools.

“At Marguerite-Bourgeoys, they’ve had students in mobile classrooms and crammed into small spaces,” explained Burke.

Immigration is another factor. New arrivals need to go into a welcome class, which is a crash course on French language and culture. Space is so scarce that about 60 kids are sitting at home right now.

Burke said his board and Marguerite-Bourgeoys have been in talks about space sharing for months, but the new education minister sped things up.

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Even though they will be within the walls, the French students will not really be part of Lindsay Place or Riverdale.

“These students would remain registered with Marguerite-Bourgoeys School Board, they rent the space, supply the teachers, administrative support, transportation and more,” Burke explained.

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Marguerite-Bourgeoys teachers are happy students will be in classrooms, but they have numerous concerns.

“How are we going to manage without a principal in the school?” said Mélanie Hubert, the president of a union that represents 5,000 teachers. “Will all the professional services be offered? What about psychologists? Educators? How are we going to do this?”

In a statement, Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board spokesperson Gina Guillemette said the board is “studying different scenarios” and it’s “too early to give more information on this subject.”

For its part, the Lester B. Pearson School Board expects to give more space to Marguerite-Bourgeoys in the coming months.

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