Hundreds of students in Montreal stuck at home waiting for Quebec to approve English eligibility

Elisa Silva is from Brazil but has been staying with her aunt and uncle in Montreal with hopes of attending high school in Canada.

The 15-year-old was supposed to start school last Friday. She was enrolled at FACE, a specialty elementary and secondary school downtown.

She chose the school for its art program because she loves to paint.

But instead, she’s sitting at her aunt and uncle’s house with nothing to do.

“I don’t know when I’m going to study. I don’t know when my school is going to start,” she said.

She is waiting for her English eligibility application to be approved. Quebec’s French-language charter restricts who can attend public school in English to those with family who also attended school in English.

But there’s a backlog of students waiting for approval, so Silva has been watching TV and studying French to pass the time.

Her uncle, Gabriel Michaud, is hosting her for six months and helping her with the process, but he’s frustrated with the delay in getting her certification approved.

“We’re not talking about a tai chi class that a 40-something is trying to register for,” he said. “This is high school and right now we have a student sitting at home doing nothing.”

EMSB chair blames ministry for delay

Joe Ortona, chair of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB), said Silva is not the only student waiting.

The Education Ministry has roughly 280 applications left to approve for the EMSB.

“The problem is on the ministry’s end,” Ortona said.

“We send the paperwork to the ministry, but the way the law is, the ministry has to approve their English eligibility before we can take them. Before we get that, we are not allowed to accept them.”

Gabriel Michaud, left, says his niece, Elisa Silva, centre, should already be approved to attend public school in English, but they are stuck waiting. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Ortona said he doesn’t know what the hold up is, but the ministry has been “very disorganized” between this and the recent bus driver negotiations that nearly left kids stranded, without a way to get to school.

“It’s unfortunate because we want to take these kids,” Ortona said. “We don’t want to refuse anybody.”

Lester B. Pearson board in the same boat

The Lester B. Pearson School Board has seen some minor delays in terms of the time it is taking to process eligibility requests, according to spokesperson Darren Becker.

“For example, the board has sent several files during the week of August 8 that we still don’t have decisions for. Currently we have more than 70 such cases,” he said in an email.

“We will continue working in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education to try to get these requests resolved quickly to ensure students can benefit from the best quality of education as quickly as possible.”

Ministry says processing takes 5 days

School boards are responsible for forwarding requests for eligibility for instruction to the Education Ministry, which then analyzes each request before making a decision, said Bryan St-Louis, a spokesperson for the ministry.

The ministry may request further information on a demand, he said.

“The ministry does not control the delay in the transmission of the request by the school board,” said St-Louis in an email.

“The average processing time is around five working days when the file is complete.

Until the applications are approved, students like Silva are out of luck.

Michaud said he is now considering private school for his niece but that would cost the family twice as much as planned.

“It’s a disaster,” said Michael.