Côte St. Luc councillors Ruth Kovac and Mitch Kujavsky voted last month against a plan to allow the installation of temporary pre-fabricated facilities for 80 students at École primaire de la Mosaïque, in the yard next to the existing building.
The proposal was approved by the majority of council.
According to recent news reports, many of the students being accommodated in this and at other Marguerite-Bourgeoys board schools are asylum seekers entering from the United States.
Requests by the board to accommodate many immigrant children, were made to several Montreal-island city and borough councils.
In Côte St. Luc, Councillor Dida Berku said her council was proposing to allow the new class spaces for two years, after which the board would have to submit a new request.
“We don’t want it to be a permanent construction,” Berku explained. “But I do understand this is a fairly urgent request. It will be connected to the school in the most professional way possible.”
Kovac said the structure could create a bad traffic situation.
“This will mean two more school buses into a very tight residential area,” she added. “It’s kind of unfair to the neighbourhood.”
She also said the situation is “politically motivated,” by “using Bill 101 (which does not allow immigrants to attend English public schools in Quebec) to foist the kids into the French system.
“This has become a hidden linguistic thing,” Kovac explained. “We have underused facilities in the Lester B. Pearson board and the English Montreal School Board, across the island of Montreal. These children could easily be accommodated in a regular classroom. I don’t understand what the issue is for Quebec— that maybe these kids would come in contact with English-speaking children?”
She added that French teachers could be hired in that respect, if need be.
“Why would we shoehorn in 80 children into a place that was already expanded just about two years ago? This is nothing but a political downloading which the Quebec government has been really good at — if not downloading onto municipalities, then onto school boards. I say we should shove it right back, and give it right back, and say ‘no.’”
Councillor David Tordjman said he would vote to give temporary permission for the structure.
Councillor Steven Erdelyi said he believes new immigrants should have the choice whether to send their children to an English or French school, but “given the paradigm of the provincial government, I don’t see that changing in the near future, and because of that, we have to make sure they find a school.”
Erdelyi added that while some of the children will be coming to school by bus, others are coming from nearby District 4, within walking distance.
Councillor Mitch Kujavsky said the provincial law in question”does not make sense,” and taxpayers will be spending money on pre-fab structures “that are not required should these children be allowed into the [French] immersion system, and there is room in the immersion system at the EMSB and the Lester B. Pearson board. Then we would not be spending this money.”
Mayor Mitchell Brownstein said there is not a “tremendous amount” of space in nearby EMSB schools.
“And we’re not going to change Bill 101 , although it’s a good time to bring up the topic. But now we’re dealing with the issue of ensuring that children, many of whom live in the neighbourhood, receive an education, and this request will allow those kids to do so.
Brownstein said he knows many of the children “are here on a temporary status, meaning they’re applying for some type of immigration status — refugee or another form and if it’s denied, they’ll have to leave. But while they’re here, they need to be able to go to school. We’re doing what we can to accommodate them.”