Champlain parents protest daycare discontinuation

Par Christopher Smith
Champlain parents protest daycare discontinuation

Champlain Township parents are left reeling after an announcement that the township will no longer offer daycare services.

For 40 years, Champlain Township has offered daycare services to working parents, utilizing space leased by the Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l’Est ontarien (CSDCEO) at no cost. Now though, the township is ridding itself of the responsibility and transferring the childcare services offered at Saint-Grégoire Catholic Elementary School in Vankleek Hill and Saint-Jean-Baptiste Catholic Elementary School in L’Orignal.

The L’Association francophone à l’éducation des services à l’enfance de l’Ontario (AFÉSEO) will assume all operations starting on January 1,2024. During the Committee of the Whole meeting on October 12, residents attended en masse to question the language, the staffing, and the reasons behind the situation.

Several questions were forwarded from a previous meeting on September 28, including whether the new provider will offer a fully bilingual service, whether there will be a transition plan in place for bilingual families, and whether the transfer of services could be postponed until such a plan is in place. Parents also wanted to know what the approach will be for special needs children at the St-Gregoire daycare.

CSDCEO Superintendent of Business and Treasurer Martin Lavigne said that delaying the transfer wouldn’t be an option, as the AFÉSEO is ready to launch the service on January 1, 2024, and might not be willing to wait. However, he assured everyone that no child will be left behind and that every attempt will be made to hire bilingual staff for the day care centre.

Language Barrier

Parents were concerned that anglophone staff would lose their jobs due to the bilingual requirement. Lavigne said that in similar situations, almost all former staff that reapplied were hired back, but staffing decisions are ultimately up to the provider. “If the second language is French, they are welcome to apply — even if it is not the greatest French in the world,” Lavigne said.

Parents were also concerned that documentation would only be available in French, presenting a barrier to English parents; Lavigne said that the French-language ‘Parent Guide’ would be explained in English to parents at a special meeting, if necessary. Vankleek Hill Councillor Paul Emile Duval pointed out that the township had always been encouraging of bilingualism, and said that, “If we sign up with you, we would like to have the note to parents sent in English and in French.”

Unfortunately, Lavigne said that bilingual documentation hasn’t been the position of the board, and that it would ultimately be up to the service provider to decide. “The school board is not saying no. Some of our schools provide certain documents in both official languages.”

He did say however that he had personally called the childcare agency and confirmed that non-French-speaking families wouldn’t be left behind just because they don’t speak the language.

“We have other communities similar to Vankleek Hill and have the same contract – in the Cornwall area, they speak English and there is nothing that prevents the use of English,” Lavigne said. “We just want to make sure they are exposed to the other language. So far as reassurance, they shouldn’t be scared of the new services. We will make it easy for parents and a nice place for the kids.”

Disciplined for English?

Parent Steve Beauchesne said that it’s rumored that speaking English is actively discouraged at the daycares, and that one teacher has proof of being disciplined for speaking English. He wondered if council had considered the possibility of English-speakers moving away if the situation became too hostile.

“Can we at least request that children be spoken to in their own language until parents have had the chance to move their child to a service that is truly bilingual?”

Lavigne said he couldn’t address the issue at this time, but he did comment that bilingualism is developed at an early age. Riopel said that the possibility of English-speakers leaving had never crossed his mind.

Surprised and Upset

Vankleek Hill Councillor Peter Barton commented to CAO Kevin Tessier on the rushed nature of the decision, saying it’s council’s job to ensure the public is well-informed of decisions of this magnitude.

“I think it was a surprise and disappointment to our community. The idea of moving away from day care is a public issue and should have been discussed publicly,” he said. “I understand that there were parts that had to take place in camera, but I think the conversation should have been held in a public forum.”

Parent Krista Tollis Skinner agreed, saying that she attempted to submit a proposal for a delegation and had been denied. She also pointed out that 4p.m. wasn’t an easy time for parents to attend a meeting that concerned their children, as both the October 12 and September 28 meeting started at 4 p.m.

Tessier said that the decision to hold the meetings in private was up to council.

Undoing What’s Been Done

Skinner asked whether the transfer of services could be cancelled, a possibility mentioned during the September 28 meeting, and whether that was a council or school board decision. Tessier said that council decided the Township will no longer offer daycare services, and everything else is up to the school board.

Lavigne said that the CDSCEO is only interested in long-term business partnerships, and that the Township has already expressed its disinterest in continuing the arrangement. Skinner asked if a long-term commitment of 10 or 20 years would change the school board’s mind and prompt them to accept the township back as a provider, to which Lavigne said he’d have to present that to the board for a decision.

Mayor Normand Riopel stated that reversing the decision and offering daycare services again isn’t something the Township is considering. It projected a $1.7 million loss over the next four years if it continued managing the service, a hefty burden to taxpayers. He asked parents to give the transition a chance, and that it might turn out much better than they were dreading.

A Bad First Impression

Skinner said that their dread was justified, and that the September 28 meeting had left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Their concerns seemed to have been brushed aside, and it seemed like the general manager was laughing at them. “We were treated with utter disrespect,” she said.

“I know there is a saying that you can never make a good first impression twice,” Lavigne said. “I think they were not prepared for that meeting and that a lot of the concerns are stemming from that night.”

Tessier said that another meeting with parents would likely be organized.

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