Everybody knows that parental involvement in community schools is
a good thing.
But the parents of the cole Communautaire Gilbert-Rosset have
taken involvement to another level: They built the school with their
own funds, and staffed it with teachers, who initially taught for
"It was pretty scary at first," says Maurice Hince, a sort of
latter-day prairie pioneer. "People said we were a bunch of crazy
people, that we wouldn't last six months."
But they had a goal: to exercise their constitutional right to
have their children educated in French. Now in their third year,
with 24 pupils from 12 families, they appear to have succeeded.
The Gilbert Rosset parents have also sued to have the province
recognize their school as an official part of Manitoba's French
School Division and fund it properly.
They are hopeful that a January ruling by the Supreme Court of
Canada, ordering Prince Edward Island to build a French school for
its Francophone community of Summerside, despite their small
numbers, will be heeded in Manitoba.
In both Summerside and St. Claude, the parents are setting a new
benchmark under the constitutional right for children to be educated
in their own language in their communities "where numbers warrant."
The two communities are effectively defining how many students
are needed before the provinces must fund a French school. Both
cases are being closely watched by Francophone communities and local
officials across Canada.
Despite the high court ruling, at the moment, provincial
officials in Manitoba and PEI have not yet provided full funding,
says Annette Labelle, president of the Commission Nationale des
Parents Francophones, from her office in Regina, Saskatchewan.
St. Claude is a farming village an hour and half southwest of
Winnipeg, founded a century ago by immigrants from France. Today a
majority of its 600-plus inhabitants are "Charter right"
Francophones, entitled to education in French. But the community is
"very assimilated," says Hince. It's a pattern widely seen across
Canada as little communities of French-speakers have been
overwhelmed by the rising tide of English.
In 1982, however, Canada adopted its Charter of Rights and
Freedoms, with its guarantee of linguistic-minority education rights
"where numbers warrant." This has led to the establishment of many
new French-language school districts. These "will not counteract the
assimilation [but] will slow it down," says Ms. Labelle.
Manitoba's French School Division, established in 1993, now has
4,100 students, out of a potential 10,000 school-age Francophones in
After the division was launched, a proposal to establish a French
school in St. Claude was presented for a vote. It was defeated -
because of scare tactics, Hince says, by opponents who claim that a
French school would crowd out English-language options. …