Nunavik board bucks Quebec order on French-language education in Kuujjuaq
Providing Kuujjuaq francophone kids with mother-tongue school could set costly precedent, KSB says
The Kativik School Board has rejected an order from the Quebec education department to provide schooling in their mother tongue to 15 francophone children in Kuujjuaq.
The KSB communicated this in a self-described “clear and thoughtful analysis of the demands from the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport [MELS] for additional French language education for a small number of children in Kuujjuaq” issued 2 p.m., Sept. 19.
In the news release, the KSB says it will “stand by the terms of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement,” which states “clearly, that in the region of northern Quebec where Inuit live, now called Nunavik, ‘the language of instruction will be in Inuktitut.’”
The school board’s statement responds to a letter sent Sept. 11 by Louise Pagé, the deputy Minister of Education for Quebec, “that demanded changes in a special homeschooling program for primary grade French-speaking students.”
The KSB’s director general, Annie Popert, suggested in the statement that the department review “the terms of the JBNQA, as well as recent history in respect to accommodating the needs of French-speaking students in Kuujjuaq.”
Popert said the Quebec education department took the school board “by surprise because its recent position is inconsistent with the spirit of partnership that has existed between the two agencies.”
The release noted that since 2008, the KSB and Quebec’s education department have worked jointly on a pilot project to provide tutoring services for French-speaking students in Kuujjuaq. In addition, the department participated in discussions and agreed to a revised pilot program for 2011 to 2014, the news release said.
In its Sept. 11 letter, Quebec’s education department ordered the KSB to offer education to francophone children in Kuujjuaq so that 15 children who speak French as their mother tongue can attend school in French.
If not, Pagé states “measures may be taken to rectify the situation.”
Pagé said she wanted to express her “concern regarding those students who are not currently attending school in the area under the jurisdiction of your school board.”
“As stipulated in section 17.0.59 of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement and in section 88 of the Charter of the French Language, educational services in French must be provided, starting in Kindergarten,” Pagé said.
The solution proposed by the KSB for the parents, to offer five hours of French tutoring outside of school, “is not satisfactory to the parents, nor does it meet the requirement to provide educational services in French to these students.”
The Quebec government letter asked the school board to produce a plan to educate Kuujjuaq’s francophone children by Sept. 13.
“After reading your letter of September 11, 2012, we are wondering why, suddenly, MELS [education department] is reaching the conclusion KSB is in breach of its obligation pursuant to the JBNQA and the Charter of the French Language? The KSB has been providing this obligation without question for the past thirty years,”
Popert said the creation of two classrooms and two full-time “tutors/teachers” would have the effect of creating a publicly-funded “private school” and “it would have a major impact across the region and province.”
“It would be unthinkable to limit this option to Kuujjuaq,” she wrote to Quebec’s education department, the news release said.
The letter warns that even if another school board comes to the region to provide services in Nunavik for the French and English students as is provided for in section 450 of the Cree, Inuit and Naskapi Education Act, “it would mean that MELS [education department] would also have to invest in new infrastructure such as extra classrooms and housing for additional teachers. Additional salaries and benefit packages would also have to be provided in all 17 schools under the KSB jurisdiction-even in cases where there might be only one or two students requiring the service.”
The KSB letter also suggests Quebec education officials carefully review the province’s law in respect to home schooling.
“There have been Quebec court decisions confirming that “home schooling” could not take place outside the child’s residence,” Popert said, suggesting that Quebec and “a few parents cannot create a classroom outside an existing education institution and call it “home schooling”.’
The 15 francophone students are now studying in a rented classroom at the Kuujjuaq Forum.
“The Board is committed to finding a solution that will satisfy all parties, and it does not want to create conflict with non-beneficiary parents in Kuujjuaq,” Popert said.
But she said “the JBNQA is clear and KSB must also consider the fairness of its programs offered to the vast majority of Inuit students who also have the right to be educated in their mother tongue, as well as other French and English students who reside outside Kuujjuaq.”
Quebec and the francophone parents have pointed to Bill 101, the charter of the French language, which guarantees French-speaking and English-speaking residents of Quebec education in their mother tongue.