PAC president Rebecca Melett of École Beausoleil with her son Natnael. Melett Trustees for School District 61 will soon be deciding on re-instituting a pair of former elementary schools, Bank Street and Sundance, which share the same site on Bank Street in Oak Bay. Both are currently leased, Bank to the Victoria College of Art and Sundance to Ecole Beausoleil, an arts-based elementary school in the French school district, Conseil Scolaire Francophone de la Colombie-Britannique. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

How Victoria’s little Ecole Beausoleil is at the heart of a national court case

100-year-old Bank Street school and the Sundance facility to be re-designated an elementary school

Victoria’s newest elementary school will have to move, but it will continue on nonetheless says the French school district.

École Beausoleil on Bank Street started in the Sundance elementary school building after the Greater Victoria School District (SD61) closed Sundance in 2015. Beausoleil quickly grew from six students to 70 this year and with 88 registered for September. However, as a result of SD61’s catchment boundary review vote on June 24, both the 100-year-old Bank Street school and the Sundance facility will be re-designated as a combined SD61 elementary school.

The reopening of a bigger, better Bank Street school will alleviate student enrolment pressures that SD61 is facing. It also means Beausoleil, which is held by the Francophone school district, Conseil Scolaire Francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF), needs a permanent home (the Francophone CSF is separate from B.C.’s French immersion programs). The current lease ends in June of 2020.

READ MORE: Greater Victoria School district’s new catchment boundaries eliminate programs of choice

“The intention is to continue with Beausoleil school,” said CSF spokesperson Pascale Cyr. “We are working with SD61 to find a temporary solution until a permanent solution is found.”

Because Bank Street is in need of significant seismic upgrades and general renovations, it’s been suggested there might be room for another one year lease at Sundance beyond July 2020.

Rebecca Mellett is the head the PAC for the arts-based elementary Beausoleil. She says parents are frustrated and pointed out that 88 students at Beausoleil is 88 fewer students in the SD61 student body.

However, the focus now is on keeping Beausoleil as close to its current location as possible.

“Parents have said clearly that location is important so a wide scope from downtown over to Jubilee and up towards Gordon Head and into Saanich,” Mellett said. “But not westward, as that is École Victor Brodeur’s catchment.”

The Beausoleil PAC is asking for clarity regarding the school’s future location by the end of November to give parents a fair chance to explore their options.

Both the Ministry of Education and SD61 are actively working with the CSF to secure a new location for Ecole Beausoleil for the 2020/21 school year, said Ministry spokesperson Scott McKenzie.

The Ministry of Education has the same jurisdiction with the CSF as it does with all 60 school districts in B.C. It sets the education policy and provides operational and capital funding.

“It’s important that students have the opportunity to learn both of Canada’s official languages,” McKenzie said.

The Ministry also assists the CSF in lease negotiations with other school districts.

In the mean time, Beausoleil’s growth and success have happened while the CSF is in a legal battle to affirm its rights as a school district. It says because the demand is smaller for Francophone schools in B.C., it is not getting access to the resources that it should be, as set out in the Canadian charter.

In 2016 the CSF won a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of B.C. and the latter ordered the Ministry of Education to set up a capital expenditure system for CSF (which has about 5,700 students province-wide). However, the Ministry of Education appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“The appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada aims to diminish the effects of assimilation,” said CSF President Marie-Pierre Lavoie. “French is alive and well outside of Quebec! We exist and we must continue to fight for the respect of our rights.”

READ MORE: School board to consider reopening Bank, Sundance schools as one

reporter@oakbaynews.com

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