Class-action lawsuit filed against Quebec school boards over fees for specialized school programs

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WATCH: Parents whose children are enrolled in specialized programs may have been wrongfully paying extra fees. This week, a Montreal lawyer filed an application to launch a class action lawsuit on behalf of his client. As Global's Shakti Langlois-Ortega reports, the suit hopes to recuperate a billion dollars from Quebec school boards – May 14, 2019

A new class-action lawsuit alleges that parents have been illegally charged by several Quebec school boards for specialized school programs.

Lawyers Joey Zukran and Michael Vathilakis submitted an application to authorize the lawsuit on Monday.

“It’s a class action asking for reimbursement of all the sums paid by parents for the purpose of specialized programs — for example, sports-études, arts, international programs, et cetera,” Zukran explained.

Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is a West Island father who Zukran says spent $10,000 on a sport-étude program at the Lester B. Pearson School Board.

READ MORE: EMSB must decide which school to transfer to French board within May — Quebec education minister

“The first year, he paid $4,200. The second year, he paid $5,000, and it turns out — and we know this because there were debates and amendments to the law just this past Thursday — it turns out that these amounts were unlawfully imposed and collected, and we’re asking for the reimbursement for those amounts,” said Zukran.

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The lawyers adds that dozens of parents have contacted his firm in the last few days in connection with the lawsuit.

“We’re asking the courts to authorize the class action on behalf of everybody, so on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Quebec parents who have paid these fees over the years,” he said.

The lawsuit application names school boards all over the province, including Lester B. Pearson School Board, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) and the Commission Scolaire de Montréal.

Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said last week during a National Assembly commission into Bill 12 that having parents pay for such programs goes against the right to have a free public education.

He reiterated that argument Tuesday.

“With the adoption of this bill, there will be more gratuity than before and our schools will be more accessible,” he insisted during Question Period.

“Parents will be charged less. Finally, on the question of class action there will be none, I’m convinced, because the agreement out of court that was signed, which cost us quite a lot of money, covered educational services…Let’s fix the system and offer the best to our children.”

Roberge blames the Liberal Party and the Parti Québécois for negligence.

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“Since 2007, the law hasn’t been fixed, [they] cost us $153 million,” he said.

Zukran argues that the government amended and “modified Article 3 of the Education Act to provide a specific exclusion to the principle of free education.”

“The new law says the specialized programs are excluded from the principle of free education. Now, that law only goes into effect July 1, 2018 so anyone who would’ve paid these fees up until then has done so unlawfully,” he told Global News.

READ MORE: Quebec education ministry picks 3 EMSB schools to be handed over to French system

A spokesperson for Roberge told Global News that the minister feels the issue was resolved when a settlement was reached in another 2016 case. Zukran disputed that point, saying the 2016 case related to parents paying for school supplies.

Roberge refused to comment any further as the matter is before the courts.

Jim Hendry, a spokesperson for the Lester B. Pearson School Board, also declined to address the lawsuit.

“At this time, the Lester B. Pearson School Board is not prepared to speculate on an issue that is in the hands of the court,” Hendry said.

EMSB chair Angela Mancini said the school board has already made some changes.

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“We have adjusted the way in which we charge any fees to our parents and are now complying to whatever the minister has given us in terms of guidelines as to what can and cannot be charged,” Mancini said.

The lawsuit aims to get back over $1 billion collected from parents for specialized programs across the province — meaning roughly $100 per person.

Zukran says that any parent who might have paid these extra fees is automatically included in the suit.

—With files from Global News’ Shakti Langlois-Ortega



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