The future of English-language school boards debated in Quebec’s highest court
The future of Quebec’s English-language school boards was in front of the province’s highest court on Monday, as the province tried to overturn the suspension of its controversial education reform, Bill 40.
A panel of judges said it would have a ruling on Thursday.
The law, passed in February, transformed most school boards into service centers and abolished elections for French-language boards, in an effort to decentralize power.
It demands that English-speaking councils begin the transition to service centers after the council elections in November, but English-speaking service centers will continue to have elected positions.
A coalition of community groups and school boards is challenging the constitutionality of the law before the Quebec Court of Appeal, alleging that it violates the rights to education in the language of the minority.
In August, the group obtained an injunction suspending the application of Bill 40 for English-speaking commissions until the merits of the case could be argued in the courts.
Province says Bill 40 is “minor” change
Samuel Chayer, an attorney for the province, argued on Monday that the suspension should be overturned.
Chayer argued that Bill 40 does not threaten minority education rights, saying it does not abolish school boards, but simply changes their names and changes their structure.
He told the court that the new service centers have the same responsibilities as the school boards and that they serve the same territory and the same schools.
Chayer said the main change in the law is to give parents more power on boards of directors by designating a number of positions for them.
He called the rest of the changes in the law “minor changes.”
Chayer noted that the law was passed by a democratically elected government and there is an urgent need for it to be implemented with board elections slated for November.
Tips: the law would cause irreparable harm
School boards lawyer Perri Ravon said it was ridiculous for the government to claim Bill 40 is a minor change.
Ravon called it the biggest transformation of the education system in Quebec in a generation.
She noted that the new law reserves certain places for the boards of parent service centers, but that parents who wish to apply for these places must already be members of the governing board of an individual school.
Parents on governing boards are currently prohibited by law from occupying school board positions.
She said the suspension of Bill 40 is necessary in order to avoid an “administrative disruption” which would lead to a change in the criteria for occupying a position on a board of directors pending the case. pleaded on the merits.
She said the administrative disruption had been recognized in previous constitutional cases as causing “irreparable harm”.
She said if the board structure was changed in November, but the school boards ended up winning on the merits, the structure would have to be changed again.
Ravon argued that the least disruptive route would be to maintain the status quo in English-language boards until the case is debated on the merits.
Neither side commented after the hearing, although the Association of Anglophone School Boards of Quebec has repeatedly called on the government to delay school board elections this fall.
So far, the government has said the elections will take place.
The deadline for boards to post an official notice of school elections is Friday.