Mault: Downtown Ottawa urgently needs French-language high school

In the center of the country’s capital there are no middle or high schools for French-speaking students. This contravenes a Charter right.

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In the center of our nation’s capital, an area representing approximately 40 square kilometers from Lowertown to Nepean and from the Ottawa River to Baseline Road, there are no (yes, zero) French-speaking middle or high schools. This highlights the disconnect between the image our politicians paint of our capital and the reality residents experience.

Living in downtown Ottawa with a family can be wonderful. The city is full of parks and green spaces, museums, events and, most importantly for families, quality schools. Residents are increasingly able to access their daily and weekly needs within their neighborhood, making people more connected and involved in their community. Unfortunately, when it comes to education, this is not the case for many francophones and French-speaking Ottawans.

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Beyond the fact that Francophones have a constitutional right to access French education in their community (no small detail), this critical missing link for students graduating from sixth grade among any of the four thriving elementary schools French-speaking in this area has long been long-term impacts for families. Parents face transferring their children to one of seven local English-speaking high schools, which all but guarantees cultural and linguistic assimilation, or sending their children, as young as 11, on buses for up to two hours. trip per day. , to the nearest French-language secondary school, which is probably bursting at the seams.

Serving parents, immigrants, and minority language communities at large, these schools are essential catalysts for the vitality of French language and culture. Many parents find the situation mind-boggling and are fed up. That’s why parents are organizing, and even seeking legal advice, to ensure that all levels of government respect the Article 23 Right of constitution of continuity of language teaching.

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In 2019, a group of civic-minded parents created an advocacy group (secondaireottawacentre.ca) with the aim of opening a new French-language secondary school by 2028/2029. The group has now grown significantly in membership and has met with many politicians at all levels and community organizations, hundreds of parents, and obviously school boards. Faced with this “missing link”, the two French-speaking school councils (CEPEO and CECCE) have confirmed that they would open a new secondary school tomorrow if funds were available. In fact, one school board has been asking the provincial government for such a project since 2018 and has reapplied for funding during this round of capital project applications to the Ontario Ministry of Education, which is expected to issue its decision in April. of 2024. .

Premier Doug Ford and ministers Stephen Lecce and Caroline Mulroney must act now to ensure the opening of a French secondary school, whether purpose-built or renovated. There are existing facilities that are underutilized and could be quickly repurposed as secondary schools. For example, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is sitting on half-empty schools in the inner city. This hoarding of facilities is deplorable when you consider that French school boards are desperately looking for space.

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According to the OCDSB’s own figures, it has the following underutilized schools: adult secondary school (62 percent occupancy); Ottawa Technique (32 percent); Richard Pfaff (50 percent), all within a five-square-kilometer radius. The facilities at the adult high school are so undervalued that the school’s sports field is currently a stage for the replacement of the MTO motorway bridge, rather than being used by children and the community for sports and physical activities.

The provincial government understands that school boards selfishly protect their property portfolio and therefore recently adopted Ontario Regulation 374/23. This regulation allows the provincial government to order governing boards to dispose of their school properties if they are not used to meet student housing needs over the next 10 years. It is not yet clear whether this new regulation could force boards to merge half-empty schools, which could free up much-needed school spaces for French-speaking boards.

Another option would be to provide funding to purchase and adapt empty facilities, such as those empty at Tunney’s Pasture, the Booth Street complex or others.

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Politicians at all levels must step up and make the most of the community at large, but especially today’s students, who are the leaders of tomorrow.

The hesitation has lasted long enough. Local parents are more motivated than ever and will continue to lobby all levels of government, especially the province, to unlock funding. Simple proactive measures taken today can quickly rectify this situation; Otherwise, there is a real risk that the provincial government will once again have another fight on its hands with Francophones in Ontario.

Mathieu Mault He lives in the Hintonburg neighborhood of Ottawa.

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