Several weeks into the school year, hundreds of youngsters eagerly awaiting their eligibility certificates to enroll in English schools across Quebec have been left in the lurch. A pressing issue, highlighted acutely by the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA), sees an unusually high waiting period this year, with over 400 students solely in the Greater Montreal area currently twiddling their thumbs at home, without the necessary paperwork required to attend school.
Quebec’s language policy stipulates that students must establish their eligibility to attend English schools before the school board can accept them. The Ministry of Education verifies that applications for the 2023-2024 school year have surged by 20 per cent compared to prior years, leading to processing delays. Furthermore, the implementation of a new language law reform known as Bill 96 has likely necessitated additional steps in processing the certificates.
Russell Copeman, QESBA’s executive director, expressed his concerns about this recurring issue, exacerbated this year. He urged the government to expedite the procedure and resort to hiring additional staff if necessary. “Having students at home without education since June due to this backlog is simply unacceptable,” he stated.
Over the years, school boards have devised methodologies to ascertain eligibility, deeming most of this year’s cases straightforward and therefore, unmerited for delay. QESBA suggests that English school boards are suffering student attrition to the French system in consequence of the backlog. “It’s merely a lag, and owing to the Education Department’s sluggish processing, hundreds of students are stripped of their rightful opportunity to attend English schools,” added Copeman.
More complex cases involve applications for temporary certificates and certificates for students with special needs.
The general criterion to receive an eligibility certificate includes having most of one’s elementary or high school education in English in Canada, or having parents who did the same, or if a parent could have been deemed eligible for English education if they attended school in Quebec post-August 26, 1977.
In a unique predicament, six young Ukrainian hockey players, who had participated in a Quebec City tournament and aspired to return to study, were also ensnared in the backlog. Having landed in Quebec City on September 1 to enroll in the English language St. Patrick’s High School, they too are in a waiting pattern for school authorization.
Bryan St-Louis, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, shared with CTV News that it has recorded “a very large number of requests to study in English” this year, and reiterated their diligent efforts to expedite the processing. According to the Ministry, the processing of a request for eligibility ordinarily takes around ten days.