GNWT to review 2008 directive on enrolment in French schools

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Ecole Boreale, the French-language school in Hay River, is experiencing a decline in enrolment.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Ecole Boreale, the French-language school in Hay River, is experiencing a decline in enrolment.

The GNWT will review its 2008 directive on enrolment in the territories’ two French-language schools – including Ecole Boreale in Hay River – before the end of the 2015-16 school year. 

The directive states that, unless otherwise approved by the minister of Education, Culture and Employment, only those students entitled to attend French-language programs under Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can be enrolled in a French-language school in the NWT.

Up to that point, non-right-holders were accepted into Ecole Boreale to reach the number of students necessary to make the school viable. Once a student was accepted, his or her siblings were also considered to be right-holders.

One of the concerns in 2008 was the French-language schools were taking students away from public schools and reducing the funding to those schools.

We, as a government, need to ensure that we meet our obligations under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when providing French-first language education programs throughout the Northwest Territories, as well as having facilities open for all children,” said Education Minister Alfred Moses in a March 7 news release.

Hay River North MLA Rocky (R.J.) Simpson is happy to see the review.

“I’m glad that they’re finally moving forward with that,” he said.

It is hoped that any changes will be in place for next school year.

Under the directive, the number of students at Ecole Boreale has fallen.

“There’s a lot of concern from parents, both parents who have children in the school and who want to get their children into school,” said Simpson. “And the concern is that the government was restricting enrolment so much that the school would eventually close because the numbers weren’t there.”

The MLA believes there is a solution to be found.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a compromise reached between the schools that everyone can agree to,” he said. “I don’t think anyone wants to see Ecole Boreale close.”

Everyone has the best interest of the children at heart, said Simpson. “And I think that’s going to drive the conversation and ultimately I think that’s what’s going to lead to an agreement.”

Yvonne Careen, superintendent of the two French-language schools with the Commission scolaire francophone Territoires du Nord-Ouest, is pleased to see the review of the directive.

“It’s a long time in coming,” she said. “And we’re prepared to work with the government for as long as it takes to get this resolved and to arrive at a settlement that would be great for both parties.”

Careen said that, in 2008, enrolment at Ecole Boreale was 115 but is now 85.

Plus, she said the number of students accepted into the school is not matching the number graduating.

“So in order for us to keep this school viable and strong, we’d have to be able to intake at least the number of students that leave at the end of their schooling,” she said. “So that’s where the directive has really hurt.”

Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, right-holders for French education are Canadian citizens whose first language is French and who can still speak it and understand it, a child who went to a French-language school anywhere in Canada, and children of a parent who went to a francophone school anywhere in Canada.

Careen said that means that many of Hay River’s Metis people, even if they have French heritage, may not be right-holders.

“Lots of families have francophone heritage,” she said. “So at this point they are not eligible for the school, either.”

She also said some anglophone families want their children to become bilingual.

Careen said the Commission scolaire has already begun discussions and struck a joint committee with the Hay River District Education Council.

“We’ve opened discussions to see if we can come up with homegrown solutions from the people from Hay River for the people from Hay River,” said Careen. “That will be a win-win situation for both parties.”

The other French-language school in the NWT is Ecole Allain St-Cyr in Yellowknife.

–Paul Bickford