Legal victory for French school – Ecole Boreale able to decide who can enrol in its classes; GNWT to pay for expansion of school building

Kristen Campbell/NNSL photo School board superintendent Marie LeBlanc-Warick, CSFTNO President Suzette Montreuil and school board trustee Michael St. Amour were part of the panel that discussed the Supreme Court's rulings regarding the NWT's two french schools.

Parents, staff and board members gathered at Ecole Boreale on June 12 to discuss the francophone school board’s legal victory against the GNWT and the steps that will follow.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s June 1 ruling found that the territorial government’s limitations on the enrolment of students in French language schools – in place since July 2008 – was unconstitutional. The court turned that power over to the francophone school board.

As well, the court ruled that French schools in Hay River and Yellowknife must be expanded by the GNWT, which is a “positive development,” said Suzette Montreuil, president of the Commission scolaire francophone Territoires du Nord-Ouest.

However, the time frame given was quite short, she added.

Justice Louise Charbonneau stated in her ruling that Ecole Boreale must expand to accommodate 160 students and the facility must include a gymnasium, complete with lockers and showers, and specialty rooms such as a science lab, music room and art room. The current facility houses 91 students, including those in kindergarten.

The cost of the additions isn’t yet known, but the GNWT will have to provide the funds, according to the ruling.

The ruling gives the two schools until September 2015 to meet the requirements, and francophone school board superintendent Marie LeBlanc-Warick believes that time is tight.

“When you think that it takes a whole year just to plan, that’s actually a short timeline regarding these building projects,” she said.

But that does not mean that the francophone students will go without for the next two to three years. In the interim, these facilities must be made available to students through the other schools.

The judge “based that on the fact that the schools are not at full capacity in Hay River,” said LeBlanc-Warick. “If we need a classroom, we should be able to go get it.”

The possibility of a government appeal was brought up by one of the 30 parents at the meeting and LeBlanc-Warick said the school board will know whether an appeal is being filed by the end of July. However, she said if one is it is unlikely the full process will hit a stalemate.

She estimated that the school board has spent close to $700,000 on the court case with the funds coming from reserves and federal accessed funding. As per Charbonneau’s ruling, most of the money will be reimbursed by the GNWT.

“It is time not to spend more money in the courts but to spend money on education,” said Montreuil.