In 1975, I started kindergarten in Victoria, B.C. at James Bay Elementary School. At age four, I joined a small group of 20 children and, give or take a few years where we were in separate classes, we spent the next eight (K-7) years together.
Despite the existence of my parents and siblings, my time at James Bay Elementary dominated my waking life. I did not realize until later, but James Bay in the seventies was not a great neighbourhood. There were thefts and beatings. Children, mostly girls, were flashed in playgrounds. But I didn't notice. I had my teachers, my friends, the field, the baseball diamond, the trees where we climbed and hid from our classmates, and the basketball court where we would play until dark. I still remember the smell of the school library, the feel of scratchy gray carpet we sat in for story time. If I close my eyes, I can still taste the homemade corn muffins made by Phil Rogers, the cafeteria chef.
I felt safe. I belonged.
As an adult, I can better understand that despite a somewhat chaotic home life what I had that gave me strength and confidence -- and a foundation for my future -- was a sense of community. And recent articles have confirmed this. What is the secret of the success of a great school?
Success is mainly due to two things: The parents very involved in school life and the priority given by the school to stability -- Lucie Perelman, Principal, Ecole Saint-Pierre-Claver, Quebec (whose students are among the best in the region of Montreal in French and mathematics.)
Community. Stability. Regardless of what we call it, I think we can all agree that it builds strong neighbourhoods, successful schools, and healthy children.
Which what makes what happened on Thursday, August 27, 2015, all the more concerning. This date marked the first day back to school for most Montreal students; "La Rentrée" as it is popularly known in French. And on that date, this is what happened to 143 children in the La Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM):
After meeting their teachers, greeting their friends and choosing their desks, at the end of the school day, almost 150 students were told they were no longer welcome at their school. Many of the children had attended, with their siblings, the school for years. With no warning or real understanding of what was happening, young students -- after packing up all their new school supplies -- had to walk past their friends and classmates, forever leaving the only school they have ever known. Parents report several of the children were in tears.
Ecole Lambert-Closse in the Mile End neighbourhood of Montreal had 17 students affected, including several from grade six. Of these children entering grade six, their last year before high school, many had been at the school since Kindergarten -- their entire primary life. Now, with siblings split apart, and with high school exams just over four weeks away, parents are left scrambling for new schools. Many of which are not accepting new students.
When media reports the effect on young children, "He was shaking," together with reaction from parents, "Disgusted. I am speechless, speechless." And teachers, "Everything's falling apart... we are all without words and the Director too,"
...does it not beg the question, who exactly is the CSDM working for?
What is the root of this issue?
It has to do with the CSDM provision of « libre choix » that allows parents to choose that their children attend schools outside of district boundaries. Parents have different reasons for doing this, but often it is because the family moves to a new location (often just a few blocks away) and to maintain stability for the children, parents use « libre choix » to have their children remain at their original community school. The CSDM has a policy that any child registered under "libre choix" will be deemed a resident after two years and two days. However, this policy does not supersede actual residents. The CSDM claims overcapacity at Lambert-Closse for 2015, but the parents counter that classes at the school were closed, and teachers were let go on August 27, 2015.
If you managed to make it all the way through that last paragraph, I hope we can agree that in terms of children getting caught up in a political bureaucracy, this situation is an unmitigated disaster.
I would like to say to the CSDM, "Your problems are not students' problems. You have been elected and hired to protect and maintain stability for our children; disrupting and potentially causing psychological damage to 143 students can not be part of your solution. Go back to your offices and find another solution. This is what you are paid to do with our tax dollars."
The last week has dealt a blow to the community. Stability for 143 students has been violated. It is time for CSDM to put children, teachers and parents first. Politicians and civil servants need to understand that students are not pawns to be pushed around in an administrative and bureaucratic chess game.
I was served well by the stability provided to me by James Bay Community school. 35 years later, I want that same stability for Montreal students. And I'm willing to fight for it.
Anyone wanting to learn more about the situation, the parents of students of Ecole Lambert-Closse have set up a Community Facebook page at Parents en colère contre les expulsions à la CSDM. If you would like to show your support to the 143 displaced students of CSDM, there are several contacts on that Facebook page. Notably, the Provincial Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports, Francois Blais, who can be emailed firstname.lastname@example.org.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: