As the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) scrambles to save three of its schools from being transferred by the province, concerned parents say they don’t want their children to be separated from their communities.
“We will do everything in the community to stop this,” said Francesco Fortugno, vice-chair of the governing board at John Paul I Junior High School.
The EMSB’s council of commissioners’ meeting on Monday comes on the heels of Quebec’s education minister’s plan to hand over three of its buildings to the overcrowded Pointe-de-l’Île school board for the fall. This includes Gerald McShane Elementary, General Vanier Elementary and John Paul I Junior High School.
The two schools boards have until June 10 to submit a different proposal. If they cannot come to a decision, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge intends to use a section of the Education Act that allows him to force a transfer that is deemed to be in the public interest.
Sylvia Spinello, whose son is in kindergarten at Gerald McShane, fought to hold back tears as she addressed the crowd. She credits her son’s teachers for helping him navigate a developmental delay and argues that he needs stability in order to thrive.
“We have to ask ourselves: Is this fair? Is this right?” she said.
The EMSB, for its part, will propose a different solution as soon as it meets with the identified schools. Angela Mancini, school board chair, said a decision will not be made this week.
The school board has already offered up the Galileo Adult Education Centre in Montreal North. The idea has been panned by Roberge, who says it is not an option to move students with special needs.
Some officials at the EMSB say they are now looking at different solutions, such as co-habitation with schools from Pointe-de-l’Île. However, vice-chair Joe Ortona says that if Roberge does impose his own decision, it should be a “win-win” for both school boards.
“I feel held hostage, being forced to give solutions,” he said. “I will never give him my blessing to take any of those schools.”
Parents of students at the three identified schools also say they oppose what they describe as a “rushed decision” imposed by the province.
“One month’s notice for a closure is just not right,” said Laura Zuanigh Marra, a parent representative for the governing board at General Vanier.
Some are also calling on the school boards and education ministry to be more transparent when it comes to negotiating building transfers and addressing overcrowding in the French-language public system.
Giovanni Sardo has two stepchildren who attend Gerald McShane. He argues the EMSB knew there was a possible threat to their schools since January and should have held town hall meetings to discuss solutions months ago.
“We need to make sure that as a community we are able to offer all kids, English or French, the best possible solution,” he said.
— With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez, Dan Spector and the Canadian Press
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