Push is on for French school

Time is running out – Il ne reste plus beaucoup de temps.

That is how a provincial report described east Toronto’s lack of a French high school back in 2011.

Three years later, local parents are still campaigning for one. After graduating from elementary schools such as George Étienne Cartier in Beach Hill, their children often have to travel more than an hour to find a French high school with available space. Many parents reluctantly choose a closer English-language school instead.

“French language education is guaranteed in the Charter, and it’s woefully lacking,” said Beaches-East York MPP Arthur Potts. Toronto has three French high schools, two public and one Catholic. None is in the East End, and enrolment at both public schools has recently been at capacity.

On Dec. 2, Potts delivered a petition to Queen’s Park from hundreds of local francophone parents calling for action on the issue. It was the latest in a long campaign.

With over 1,000 French-language students already in the area and more expected, Potts said the East End could ideally support a Grade 9 to 12 French school of about 500 students, though he noted other jurisdictions have also done well with schools that go from kindergarten to Grade 12.

“There’s enough of a demographic here to justify a French-language high school, and we’re going to work to try and find a way to do it.”

Ultimately, French school boards have to find local property and make the case for a new school to Ontario’s Ministry of Education.

Melinda Chartrand, president of the French Catholic school board, said her board has been searching for years.

“Our high schools across the region are overcrowded, and one of the prime areas for a new school is in east Toronto, in the Beaches,” said Chartrand.

Chartrand said the board did recently buy land for a school at McCowan Road and Eglinton Avenue, but it’s been much harder trying to find property in this area.

“We’re always hoping that another school will become available through the other school boards, but that has not happened,” she said.

While enrolment is low in English schools – more than a fifth of TDSB schools were under 60 per cent last year – Chartrand said all Toronto school boards have to anticipate that the city will keep growing.

But upcoming reforms to Ontario’s rules for how school boards transfer properties may help, she said.

“I know all the boards are complaining about the regulation,” she said, noting that such transfers often take years to do. “We’re hoping that we can get something more expedient.”

In the meantime, Chartrand is concerned that children will continue to graduate from French elementary schools in the East End and have no reasonable way to continue.

“It’s a huge loss,” she said. “They will lose that language and that culture.”

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