It took almost two weeks, but the English Montreal School Board has commented on the controversy surrounding an MNA's social media activities appearing to call into question the integrity of an EMSB school property and creating division in TMR.
In an online statement, EMSB Trustee Marlene Jennings wrote: “Following the publication of a number of media reports that speculated on infrastructure projects involving its schools, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) insists on addressing the situation and clarifying specific information.”
“The EMSB regularly participates in formal, as well as informal, discussions with the Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur (MEES) and with other school service centres on the Island of Montreal regarding future infrastructure needs… (Over the last year) the EMSB has held these types of discussions on an exploratory basis with public service members of the MEES along with representatives of the Centre de services scolaire de la Pointe-de-l’Île as well as those of the Centre de services scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys. We want to make it clear that various scenarios involving many existing and projected schools were discussed.”
Media reports did not actually focus on projects involving schools as Jennings asserted, but rather the indignation of parents after Mount Royal-Outremont MNA Pierre Arcand posted suggestive photos and language highlighting lack of space at French Saint-Clément school while pointing at an empty Dunrae Gardens schoolyard and talking about empty land, suggesting Education Minister Jean-François Roberge intervene.
After a day accepting accolades for his post, Arcand reiterated on Facebook and told The Suburban it was only about getting the CAQ government to act. TMR Mayor Phillipe Roy, local councillor Joseph Daoura and others congratulated Arcand on his message, which appeared to coincide with news about school developments on the Marguerite-Bourgeoys social media platform. Roy also told The Suburban he meant no offence and his praise was only about getting a new French school for TMR.
Immediately after the first post appeared, The Suburban asked the EMSB and its interim Director-General for comment about the unprecedented gesture using an English school as a prop in what appeared to be a concerted effort between an MNA, municipal council and French school service centre calling the Quebec government to action.
Roy and Arcand said talks had been ongoing with the government and French board, acknowledging the government had given more than $20 million for the project last year, and all that was left was finding land.
The EMSB, nor any other organization or community leadership, responded with the exception of Parent Commissioner Pietro Mercuri, although several parents and EMSB employees did contact The Suburban to express outrage.
“I've never felt more ashamed by the silence,” said one veteran teacher, adding “the same people sitting on their hands are the ones screaming at the government about education. If the PQ or anyone else had done this, they would have lost their minds. But not a peep from the commissioners except for the parent rep I read about in The Suburban. Sitting at the sidelines hurling insults at the education minister for everything, but on this nothing? I've seen more people speak in our defence whose children attend Saint Clément.”
TMR parent Liette Senécale told The Suburban she was “disappointed” that an administrator at her own child’s school entered the fray, telling people to leave language debates in the past. “It's easy to say that when it's not your community getting threatened. I would also be outraged if I were an Anglophone parent, but respectfully, they need to pull up their pants and rethink their loyalties.”
Speaking to The Suburban, Arcand took the opportunity to take a swipe at the CAQ, reminding that it was they “who abolished school boards,” and that he was appalled that the EMSB was not involved in any of the discussions, before returning to Facebook to tell critics “in no way I am promoting the use of some of your land to build a French Primary School in TMR. There were discussions about that project at the Ministry of Education but if there is no social acceptability another solution should be found.”
Jennings did reveal however, that such discussions did take place, albeit not important enough to share with other EMSB bodies.
Although the EMSB “considered” these ideas, they were never deemed “sufficiently feasible nor relevant enough to warrant holding talks with members of the EMSB Long Range Planning Committee or with any of the governing boards of one of our schools… over and above our statutory obligations, we are dedicated to respecting the role and the work of each one of our governing boards” and pledged to consult said boards if “a relevant proposal is put forth.”
The issue has become a political hot potato as parties in the Bill 40 court case returned to court this week, one opposition attaché telling The Suburban on background with the government under attack on a host of issues, the Anglo school issue “is important but this has become an unwelcome distraction. The more we talk about it, the less we talk about Roberge.”