French school still in limbo

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo Kiarah Fabian, left, and Josee Touesnard hang out in Ecole Boreale's makeshift library during lunch-hour last Thursday. Unlike other schools in Hay River, Boreale doesn't have a designated room to house the library and the sheleves move around in the atrium when the space is needed for other things.

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
Kiarah Fabian, left, and Josee Touesnard hang out in Ecole Boreale’s makeshift library during lunch-hour last Thursday. Unlike other schools in Hay River, Boreale doesn’t have a designated room to house the library and the sheleves move around in the atrium when the space is needed for other things.

Despite a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last week dealing with part of the Commission Scolaire Francophone’s demands from the GNWT for French-language schools, Ecole Boreale is still limbo.

“This decision is huge for all minority-language schools,” said Boreale principal Stephane Millette. “But in our specific situation, I don’t think it will have a major impact unless the GNWT is forced to recognize non-rights holders having a right to apply to minority-language schools.”

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that minority-language schools have to be provided the resources to have equivalent facilities relative to nearby majority-language schools.

“In their unanimous decision, the judges on the highest court in Canada stated that the students of l’École élémentaire Rose-des-Vents (in Vancouver) do not benefit from equivalent school infrastructure as do anglophones living in the same school zone, such as stated by section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” reads a statement put out by the CSF.

In January, the NWT Court of Appeals handed down a verdict earlier this month reversing the 2012 ruling by Judge Louise Charbonneau that had granted the CSF not only control over the admissions policy for the two French-language schools in the territory, but also significant expansions to Ecole Boreale, including a gym and specialized classrooms.

In a related case, some expansions to Ecole Allain St-Cyr in Yellowknife were upheld.

Ecole Boreale and the CSF have been wrestling for years with the GNWT for a gym, specialized spaces like science labs and a home economics classroom, but the principal said these are not that most important concerns.

“So far, this won’t have a huge impact,” said Millette. “The ministerial directive has had a huge impact.”

The directive ensures that only rights-holders as defined by the Charter are allowed into French schools in the NWT, something that had been left up to the discretion of the school board itself before, as it is in the rest of English Canada. The only other English-speaking jurisdiction with the same directive is the Yukon, from where another case is being heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. While the CSF has applied to the highest court in Canada, a ruling on the Yukon case may render the point moot.

“A ruling for the school board in that case would confirm the right of school boards to have a reasonable admissions policy that recognizes the specific situations of some families and communities,” said Millette.

Since the directive, Ecole Boreale has gone from 115 students to 85, with a drop to 50 in sight if it is not lifted. If the trend continues, the school might be facing three-grade splits, something Millette said would have to be acceptable to parents to work.

–Sarah Ladik