Pre­vent­ing The Merger Of The East­ern Town­ships School Board

Stanstead Journal - - FROM PAGE ONE -

“This was As­cot School House,” said my mother as she waved her hand to­wards an aban­doned two-story red-brick school in a farm­ers’ field at the end of Spring Road, where for­mer Ea­ton and As­cot Town­ships met be­fore the hill slopes down to the St. Fran­cis River and Bishop’s Univer­sity be­low. The school house was de­mol­ished sev­eral years ago, and only the trees stand­ing in or­derly lines and a small patch of raised earth, pay homage to the fact that school chil­dren once played and were ed­u­cated here. Small clap­board and brick school houses lit­ter the ru­ral East­ern Town­ships, some are re­stored as in Milby, while oth­ers are left idle in farm­ers fields or used as wood­sheds. Left-overs from ru­ral de­pop­u­la­tion, the ex­o­dus of English-speak­ers from Que­bec, and the forced clo­sure and amal­ga­ma­tion of com­mu­nity schools into large re­gional in­sti­tu­tions. Along with school clo­sures, a fo­cal point for com­mu­nity in­volve­ment, co­he­sion and ed­u­ca­tion of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of dis­parate ru­ral mi­nor­ity-lan­guage com­mu­ni­ties was lost. Alexan­der Galt Re­gional High School is lo­cated a stones-throw away from the for­mer As­cot school, where stu­dents from around the Town­ships are bused in from hours away, to labyrinthine build­ings ru­moured to be the same de­sign as a min­i­mum se­cu­rity prison, sink 6 inches fur­ther into the ground from their lo­ca­tion on for­mer swamp­land and are of­ten over­whelmed by the smells from the ex­per­i­men­tal farm next door. Now, like As­cot School House, and in­nu­mer­able tiny Town­ships schools which ex­ist only in mem­ory or for­got­ten on pas­tures, the East­ern Town­ships faces an as­sault to its’ pub­lic English-lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion. The Que­bec gov­ern­ment’s pro­pos­als to merge the New Fron­tiers, River­side and the East­ern Town­ships School Board (ETSB) will serve to fur­ther marginal­ize and iso­late English-speak­ers in the his­tor­i­cal East­ern Town­ships and hin­der equal ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion for English-speak­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

1. SIG­NIF­I­CANCE OF THE ETSB Firstly, the sig­nif­i­cance and at­tach­ment of lo­cal English-speak­ers to the ETSB can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated. The ETSB is the only ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­ture that cov­ers the en­tire for­mer East­ern Town­ships (save Thet­ford Mines), is gov­erned by lo­cal English-speak­ers and pro­vides ex­clu­sively English-lan­guage gov­ern­ment ser­vices in the re­gion. The East­ern Town­ships have seen their orig­i­nal coun­ties, town­ships and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties slowly ad­min­is­tered out of ex­is­tence and re­placed by face­less re­gional ad­min­is­tra­tions. The his­toric English-speak­ing com­mu­nity is of­ten linked by com­mu­ni­ties of in­ter­est (kin­ship net­works, agri­cul­tural as­so­ci­a­tions, ed­u­ca­tions in­sti­tu­tions) along the lines of for­mer mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, town­ships, and coun­ties which no longer ex­ist. They have been re­placed by new mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, Re­gional county mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties (MRCs), Health and So­cial Ser­vices Cen­tres (CSSS) and provin­cial level ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­tures over the last sev­eral decades. The East­ern Town­ships was of­fi­cially abol­ished by the Que­bec Gov­ern­ment in 1981, as was re­placed with 5 ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gions, with the heart be­ing lo­cated in ‘Estrie’, a bas­tardized and much re­sented French-lan­guage term for the East­ern Town­ships. The elim­i­na­tion of the last ves­tiges of the re­gion’s in­sti­tu­tional au­ton­omy will de­prive Que­be­cers and Cana­di­ans’ of the com­plex and rich sources of our iden­tity. As lo­cal his­to­rian Bernard Epps wrote, “the idea seems to be to erase ev­ery­thing which made the East­ern Town­ships unique and in­te­grate it into the rest of Que­bec. They are suc­ceed­ing to the ex­tent that the Town­ships may soon ex­ist only in his­tory.” 2. MI­NOR­ITY-LAN­GUAGE ED­U­CA­TION IS CON­STI­TU­TION­ALLY

PRO­TECTED AND MULTI-FACETED Se­condly, while the Prov­ince has promised that English-lan­guage ser­vices and schools will not be af­fected by the merg­ers, the gov­ern­ment has for­got­ten that the right to mi­nor­ity-lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion is far more ex­pan­sive than phys­i­cal schools and the lan­guage used in class­rooms by teach­ers and school­child­ren. The right to mi­nor­ity-lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion in Canada, for An­g­los in Que­bec or Fran­co­phones in the Rest of Canada, is en­shrined in S. 23 of the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms. Ed­u­ca­tion rights for lan­guage mi­nori­ties ex­tend to the man­age­ment and con­trol of school boards, the lo­ca­tion and con­struc­tion of schools, fos­ter­ing com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment, and con­fer a pos­i­tive right to com­pel gov­ern­ments to meet th­ese re­quire­ments. 3. COM­MU­NITY AND CUL­TURAL IM­PACT OF MI­NOR­ITY

LAN­GUAGE ED­U­CA­TIONAL IN­STI­TU­TIONS Thirdly, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions are crit­i­cally im­por­tant for the com­mu­nity and cul­tural de­vel­op­ment for mi­nor­ity-lan­guage groups in Canada. Ed­u­ca­tion is in­sep­a­ra­ble from the means and in­sti­tu­tions to trans­fer lan­guage in­ter-gen­er­a­tionally and foster com­mu­nity co­he­sion and en­gage­ment. The Supreme Court of Canada stated in the Al­ber­tan Mahe case that schools were, “com­mu­nity cen­tres where the pro­mo­tion and preser­va­tion of mi­nor­ity lan­guage cul­ture can oc­cur.” In Arse­nault-Cameron v. Prince Ed­ward Is­land, the Supreme Court reaf­firmed the propo­si­tion ad­vanced in Mahe that, “lan­guage rights, es­pe­cially in the con­text of ed­u­ca­tion, can­not be sep­a­rated from a con­cern for the cul­ture as­so­ci­ated with the lan­guage”. Even in cases where the small size of a school might limit ser­vices and ac­tiv­i­ties, pro­tect­ing the

The Stanstead Jour­nal fully en­dorses this let­ter to the ed­i­tor as its own po­si­tion. cul­ture of a mi­nor­ity-lan­guage com­mu­nity takes prece­dence and can com­pel a gov­ern­ment to con­struct new schools. 4. MAN­AGE­MENT AND CON­TROL OF MI­NOR­ITY

LAN­GUAGE ED­U­CA­TIONAL IN­STI­TU­TIONS Fourthly, the man­age­ment and con­trol of school boards and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions is in­te­gral to the right to mi­nor­ity-lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion. The Mahe case es­tab­lished the wide-rang­ing na­ture of the right: guar­an­teed rep­re­sen­ta­tion on school boards, de­sign of pro­grammes of in­struc­tion, fund­ing ex­pen­di­tures, ap­point­ment of ad­min­is­tra­tors and teach­ers, and the es­tab­lish­ment of school pro­grams. 5. AP­PLI­CA­TION OF MI­NOR­ITY-LAN­GUAGE ED­U­CA­TION

RIGHTS BASED ON POP­U­LA­TION AND TER­RI­TORY Fifthly, the the num­bers and ge­o­graphic ter­ri­tory to which th­ese ed­u­ca­tion rights ap­ply are fluid and are ac­corded on a “where num­bers war­rant” ba­sis, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion a va­ri­ety of fac­tors. Mahe es­tab­lished that par­ents and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from a lin­guis­tic-mi­nor­ity are best placed to iden­tify lo­cal needs and to de­fine the ter­ri­to­rial lim­its of ed­u­ca­tional man­age­ment struc­tures, tak­ing into ac­count his­tor­i­cal, so­cial and ge­o­graphic fac­tors. In 1993, the Supreme Court struck down Man­i­toba’s leg­is­la­tion re­spect­ing French-lan­guage schools, be­cause it made no pro­vi­sion for the par­ents of French-lan­guage stu­dents to have man­age­ment and con­trol over French-lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion. It was es­ti­mated that the num­ber of French-lan­guage stu­dents in Man­i­toba was 5,617 at the min­i­mum, and this rel­a­tively low num­ber com­pelled Man­i­toba to es­tab­lish an in­de­pen­dent French-lan­guage school board un­der the ex­clu­sive man­age­ment and con­trol of the mi­nor­ity. The English-speak­ing com­mu­nity in the Town­ships is de­fined by what is de­scribed as the “miss­ing-mid­dle” with English-speak­ers aged 15 to 44 who have, on av­er­age, lower lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion, in­come and em­ploy­ment than their French­s­peak­ing coun­ter­parts. Youth stand to earn 4,000$ less a year than a fran­co­phone their age with the same ed­u­ca­tion. The East­ern Town­ships, with its unique his­tory and lin­guis­tic iden­tity, so­cio-eco­nomic chal­lenges and close to 6,000 stu­dents served by the ETSB, would cer­tainly meet the es­tab­lished cri­te­ria for au­ton­o­mous mi­nor­ity-lan­guage man­age­ment and con­trol. 6. MI­NOR­ITY-LAN­GUAGE ED­U­CA­TION

RIGHTS ARE A POS­I­TIVE RIGHT Sixthly, mi­nor­ity-lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion rights con­fer pos­i­tive rights that can com­pel gov­ern­ments to build schools and es­tab­lish school boards for lin­guis­tic mi­nori­ties, if nec­es­sary. In Nova Sco­tia’s Doucet-Boudreau case, the courts ac­tu­ally su­per­vised the con­struc­tion of five French-lan­guage schools!

CON­CLU­SION In con­clu­sion, while it is laud­able that the Que­bec gov­ern­ment take a proac­tive ap­proach to cost con­trol, ba­sic ac­cess and con­trol to mi­nor­ity-lan­guage ser­vices must not fall un­der the axe as well. What is ap­pro­pri­ate for the majority is not al­ways ap­pro­pri­ate for the mi­nor­ity. The gov­ern­ment not only risks po­lit­i­cal fall­out from school board re­duc­tions, but might pro­voke con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenges. The cen­tral­iza­tion of cer­tain ac­count­ing and other tech­ni­cal ser­vices, while main­tain­ing lo­cal pol­icy-mak­ing de­ci­sions, might prove more ben­e­fi­cial to cost-re­duc­tion. Ev­ery week­day morn­ing, bright yel­low buses em­bla­zoned with the black let­ter­ing ‘EAST­ERN TOWN­SHIPS’ ply over 16,000 km of roads to bring chil­dren to school. Let us en­sure that this struc­ture re­mains for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The elim­i­na­tion of the ETSB will push our com­mu­nity fur­ther into ob­scu­rity. If it is made into law, we must re­mem­ber it was us, through our pe­riod of in­ac­tion, who al­lowed cold, cal­cu­lat­ing provin­cial gov­ern­ments and bu­reau­cra­cies to de­stroy our com­mu­nity. I know my com­mu­nity de­serves bet­ter and our chil­dren de­serve bet­ter.

Take Ac­tion to Save the ETSB: The Que­bec Gov­ern­ment is con­sult­ing on a po­ten­tial ETSB merger over the next two weeks be­fore mak­ing a fi­nal decision. Con­tact your lo­cal M.N.A. and en­cour­age them to ad­vo­cate against the mea­sure. Pierre Reid in Or­ford Guy Hardy in Saint-Fran­cois Ghis­lain Bolduc in Mé­gan­tic Pierre Par­adis in Brome-Mis­sisqoui Luc Fortin in Sher­brooke Karine Val­lières in Rich­mond Sébastien Sch­nee­berger in Drum­mond-Bois-Francs An­dre La­mon­tagne in John­son Fran­cois Bon­nardel in Granby Sign the pe­ti­tion on­line to be sent to the Gov­ern­ment and lo­cal MNAs be­fore De­cem­ber 1st here: https://www.change.org/p/dr-yves-bolduc-save-the-etsb-east­ern-town­shipss­chool-board

Colin Stan­dish

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