Despite Premier Legault’s last-minute threats against local school boards who were thinking of defying the government over Bill 21, a majority of the English Montreal School Board’s commissioners voted to challenge the new law that bans the wearing of religious symbols on the job for many of the government’s employees — including many of the school board’s teachers.

“This law goes against all of the values we believe in as an organization,” said EMSB Chairman Angela Mancini. “I think it breeds intolerance.”

Contrary to the stress and tension that usually define the school board’s meetings, last week’s decision was the result of a quiet and subdued discussion as councillors continued to discuss what a recent EMSB human resources report would mean for the school board’s future. Based upon its conclusion that Bill 21 hobbled its ability to hire the best and the brightest talent required to maintain its standards, the report recommends that the board mount yet another legal challenge to protect its interests based upon Canadian Charter section 23 that guarantees minority language education rights. While much of the council’s discussion occurred during a previous in camera session, Councillor Julian Feldman continued to lead the attack against the government’s intention to limit, and effectively eliminate school board authority over its own affairs – including the management of its own human resources.

“Seeking an exemption through the courts...is particularly relevant to the EMSB and all of Québec’s English-speaking school boards,” said Feldman who chairs the board’s Human Resources committee “...(because) they’re all grappling with surging parent demand for access to schools offering high-level second – language French programs, delivered through bilingual and French immersion schools.”

While some councillors were worried about both the cost and the consequences of the lawsuit against a government that’s already demonstrated its disdain for Montreal’s English community, both Feldman and councillor James Kromida convinced their colleagues to join the fight against the law and the government’s intervention in the school board’s affairs.

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