Iqaluit DEA says dispute with French school board is about space
“Our limited resources like classroom space are being put to the test”
The Iqaluit District Education Authority says it has no obligation to provide classroom space to the city’s francophone students.
Instead, space and capacity issues should be resolved between the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut’s French-language school board, the IDEA said this week.
The Commission scolaire francophone du Nunavut, known as the CSFN, which oversees École des Trois-Soleils in Iqaluit, has said its student enrollment has dropped due to a lack of classroom space for its high school program.
The school board, which already has an agreement with the CSFN to house students in Grades 10 to 12 in a classroom at Iqaluit’s Inuksuk High school, asked Iqaluit’s district education authority to accommodate four new Grade 9 students in the same classroom for 2016-17.
But, because no agreement was reached ahead of the school year, Trois-Soleils now says those four students have been forced to leave Trois-Soleils to enrol at Inuksuk High School.
That result has brought to a head months of debate, disagreement and letters back and forth between the IDEA, the CSFN and the Government of Nunavut’s department of Education, which each have a different idea of how to accommodate Nunavut’s francophone students.
“When the CSFN said they don’t require any more space, we don’t have any spare room,” said Doug Workman, chair of the IDEA. “Our limited resources like classroom space are being put to the test with the increase in our student population here in Iqaluit.”
Inuksuk has reached maximum capacity in recent years, he said.
The IDEA, which oversees all the school facilities in Iqaluit, said the current agreement to accommodate the handful of Grade 10 to 12 students from Trois-Soleils means some other Inuksuk classes are held in the cafeteria or library.
But the real problem is the GN’s interference in negotiations between the French school board and the IDEA, Workman said.
The two sides have been trying to reach a new agreement on how to accommodate francophone students since 2015.
The IDEA has argued that if the CSFN wants to house its high school program at Inuksuk, Inuksuk should be assigned half of what’s called the student enrollment ratio, which determines how many teachers a school is allocated.
The CSFN disagrees.
When the two organizations hadn’t reached an agreement by the beginning of September, the GN intervened: Education Minister Paul Quassa sent a letter to the IDEA instructing it to allow the Grade 9 students to study at Inuksuk.
The IDEA responded Sept. 11 by filing an injunction in Nunavut court to prohibit the GN or school principals from implementing any sort of agreement with the CSFN.
Then, on Sept. 14, Quassa sent a letter withdrawing his previous directive to the IDEA to host the Grade 9 students.
The needs of the francophone students are obvious, Workman said, but they shouldn’t be met at the expense of Inuksuk students.
“And that’s the kind of authority the minister is trying to take away from us,” he said. “They are responsibilities that we, and district education authorities, take very seriously.”
The injunction will be heard Oct. 17 in the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit.
Quassa did not want to comment on the injunction, but he acknowledged that DEAs in Nunavut do indeed have responsibility over school facilities.
“However, the minister has the responsibility to provide adequate resources to the DEAs including to the CSFN,” Quassa said. “And further, the minister has the constitutional obligation… with the respect to the provision of the French language.”
The CSFN has already filed a lawsuit against the GN, citing its minority language rights are not being met.
Quassa wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit either.
“But I’m hopeful an agreement will be reached with the CSFN that meets the needs of the francophone community,” he said.
After encouraging the IDEA to accommodate the Grade 9 students, Quassa now suggests there is room at Trois-Soleils for those four students.
“It’s become pretty clear that the CSFN did in fact have room for their Grade 9 students at their own school,” he said.
“The issue of course here is that the Grade 9 students wanted to be with their peers at the high school.”
Quassa said the two parties should sign a memorandum of understanding in which Inuksuk will continue to host Trois-Soleils’ Grades 10, 11 and 12 students.
The IDEA signed an MOU to that affect on Aug. 31, but the CSFN has yet to sign off on it.
Without the MOU, the IDEA said it will honour the standing agreement to host the Grades 10, 11 and 12 students, at least until the end of the school year.