While the GNWT has presented a concept that would see Harry Camsell School and Ecole Boreale swap buildings, no decision has yet been made, according to Terrance Courtoreille, chair of the Hay River District Education Authority (DEA).
“We haven’t yet been asked to make a decision on anything and, if we are, we’re going to need a lot more information,” he said.
Courtoreille said the Department of Education, Culture, and Employment (ECE) proposed the swap as a potential solution to part of a 2012 court ruling that mandated French schools in both Yellowknife and Hay River – Ecole Allain St-Cyr and Ecole Boreale, respectively – under the Commission Scolaire Francophone (CSF) have access to greater facilities, most importantly a gym. Neither Allain St-Cyr nor Ecole Boreale have their own gyms and both have been sharing those of nearby English-language schools in the interim to comply with the ruling.
The GNWT is in the process of appealing the court ruling.
“The rationale given was that it would allow the GNWT to comply with the court ruling in a more timely and cost-effective manner,” Curtis Brown, the superintendent for the South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC), told The Hub. “I think they might also be hoping it might bring a close to the ongoing legal proceedings.”
Brown said the GNWT has pegged the cost to expand both Yellowknife and Hay River French-language schools at $28 million. He also noted the CSF had asked for a gym, not to swap schools.
“There are logical considerations,” he said. “But also lots of emotions involved, as well. At this point we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Brown also said the drop in overall enrolment is a contributing factor to the proposal. He said that, while Harry Camsell School is functioning at over 50 per cent capacity, it’s still a ways from 100 per cent, allowing the GNWT to consider moving students around to use the available spaces differently.
Both Harry Camsell School and Ecole Boreale are GNWT assets, making it possible for ECE to dictate a switch if the department so chooses, according to Brown.
“The last thing you want to do is put yourself in a position where you’re no longer at the table anymore,” he said. “And that’s a possibility.”
Courtoreille agreed. He said the DEA would not support an option that does not provide for the current programming and needs of students, but also acknowledged the government has the power to reallocate the resources as needed.
“We want to keep the dialogue open,” he said. “We want to be involved in this consultation and bring it back for our parents and students, which will help us make a decision at some point in time.”
Courtoreille said the DEA has requested a meeting next month with the deputy minister for Education, adding that he and the other members of the authority are well prepared with questions about the logistics – with regards to both programming and funding – a school swap would entail.
“It has to work for us, as well,” he said. “The reality is that any student population at Ecole Boreale isn’t going to have that access to a gym right down the hall.”
Courtoreille said the GNWT proposed the swap early in the fall and had initially hoped to see the changes implemented for the beginning of the 2014 school year, but that is not a realistic option.
“We certainly don’t want to be pushed into anything because of that timeline,” he said. “If it takes more time to consider the impacts and outcomes, we will take that time.”
The Department of Education, Culture and Employment declined to comment.