The ABCs of English public schooling eligibility
Whether you already have school-aged children and find yourself moving to a new community or are ready to begin a family in the town you currently reside in, you will most certainly discover that in Quebec, the English education system can be rather confusing.
First of all, what the Quebec government refers to as English schools isn’t really what others living outside the province would consider an English school. In Quebec, English elementary school students are taught approximately half of their subjects in English and the other half in French. However when they move on to an English high school the French portion drops considerably. At Westwood Junior High School in St. Lazare for example, a student is required to take a minimum of two French classes: Art (in French) and a French class, however the student can also choose to take Social Sciences (or sciences humaines), which includes History and Geography classes in French.
Secondly, not just anyone can choose to send their child to an English school. In 1977, Quebec’s National Assembly adopted the Charter of the French Language Bill. The Charter, commonly referred to as Bill 101, states that all children must be educated in French until the end of their high school studies, no matter if it’s in a public school or a subsidized private school. The Bill does not apply to non-subsidized private education institutions.
According to the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport, there are only three categories of children who can be enrolled in an English school: children who are permanent residents of Québec and who qualify for a certificate of eligibility for instruction in English; children who are permanent residents of Québec and who are entitled to receive instruction in English under a special authorization and children who are living in Québec temporarily and who qualify for a temporary authorization to receive instruction in English.
A certificate of eligibility will typically be given to a child who lived in Canada and received most of his/her elementary and/or high school education in English (in Canada). Also if the child’s sibling or parent (who is a Canadian citizen) has done most of his/her elementary education in English in Canada or has a parent (who is a Canadian citizen unless he/she did their education in Quebec) that attended school in Quebec after August 26, 1977 and could have been declared eligible for instruction in English at that time.
Not many people realize that those who have been declared eligible but decided to pursue their studies in French anyways can still transfer their right to receive instruction in English to their children. The certificate of eligibility has no time limit and will never expire.
Moreover, the right to enrol a child in the English public system is automatically conferred on his or her siblings, which leads to another anomaly in the Quebec public system — the use of ‘bridging schools’ to gain that precious eligibility certificate for kids not otherwise eligible.
Under Bill 101, a child who attended one year of English schooling in a nonsubsidized private school could transfer to a public English school. This phenomenon led to an explosion of private schools that would allow parents to confer eligibility by enrolling their eldest in one of these schools, thereby buying eligibility for their brothers and sisters.
In 2002, the Parti Quebecois government passed Bill 104 to close the loophole but in 2009, the Supreme Court ruled the bill violated the federal rights charter and gave the Liberal government a year to replace it. The patch, Bill 115, now requires that a student must attend three years at an English language, non-subsidized, private school in Quebec. A government official will judge each case on its merits. The bureaucrat will use an arbitrary, and, as-yet, unknown, point system to make the decision.
Parents who have a child with a serious learning disability might be interested to know that they too are entitled to receive instruction in English under a special authorization. Likewise, if their child has a serious family or health issue, they can contact the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport to ask about having their child assessed in the hopes of getting permission to have them attend an English school.
The Ministère will also usually give temporary eligibility certificates for children whose parents are temporarily working or studying in Quebec, for children of foreign nationals and children of members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
For more information parents should begin with contacting their child’s current school and/or the school they wish to enrol their child in or the English school board:
• Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport: 418-643-7095
• Lester B. Pearson School Board: (English School Board) 514-422-3000
• Commission Scolaire des Trois Lacs: (French School Board) 514-477-7000.