‘Outraged’ students stage walkout over proposed school swap in Louis Riel School Division

Dozens of students staged a walkout at Windsor Park Collegiate on Monday in protest of a division plan to send the student body to another school due to space constraints, population growth and rising demand for French immersion programming.

The Louis Riel School Division plans to swap students and staff at Windsor Park, an English high school, and Collège Béliveau, a French immersion high school. They would trade names, too.

“We’re honestly outraged that these changes are being made without any student consultation,” said Michael Prokipchuk, organizer of the walkout and student leadership council executive at Windsor Park.

French enrolment at Béliveau is up, English enrolment is stable or down at Windsor Park, and the Windsor Park space is a bigger building, according to the division.

Students who live in Sage Creek currently attend Windsor Park, but as part of the change they would be sent to J.H. Bruns. 

The division wants the move to be completed in time for the 2024-25 school year. The division board is expected to put forward a notice of motion on the swap at a meeting Tuesday. 

Michael Prokipchuk, student leadership council executive at Windsor Park, organized the walkout on Monday. (Radio-Canada)

Prokipchuk said students are against the move. They worry they could lose or compromise the quality of their musical theatre and shop programs, among others.

Windsor Park has a performing stage, whereas Collège Béliveau doesn’t, and it also doesn’t have the same facilities for music, woods, metals and pre-engineering shops classes, said Prokipchuk.

“We do feel for the current Béliveau students, we do believe they deserve more opportunities and resources as well…. We are looking for a solution that offers equal opportunities between English and French immersion students.”

Christian Michalik, superintendent of the Louis Riel School Division, said students will not lose out on opportunities in the move. He said as part of the deal the division hopes to obtain money from the province to renovate spaces in Windsor Park and Béliveau.

Windsor Park Collegiate, pictured, is about 300 metres from Collège Béliveau. (Radio-Canada)

Michalik said the notion of a swap stems from growth and associated enrolment pressures along the southeast periphery of the division — including Sage Creek and Bonavista neighbourhoods — and a rise in demand for French immersion programming provincewide.

J.H. Bruns, built in 1974 and last renovated in 1976, is closest of the seven high schools in the division to those neighbourhoods with the highest growth rates, Michalik said.

According to the division, as of September enrolment at J.H. Bruns Collegiate sat at 782 (its capacity is 700); it was 676 at Windsor Park Collegiate (capacity of 700); and 645 at Collège Béliveau (capacity of 650).

Division projections suggest after the proposed changes are made the Windsor Park Collegiate student population would be just under 500, Collège Béliveau could grow to about 970 and J.H. Bruns to 940 by the 2027-28 school year.

The shift would bring English student numbers down at Windsor Park to a level where they would fit inside the current Collège Béliveau building, said Michalik. And after it moved into the Windsor Park building, Béliveau would have space to accommodate a growing number of French immersion students in the division, he said.

Christian Michalik is superintendent of the Louis Riel School Division. (Radio-Canada)

J.H. Bruns isn’t large enough to accommodate an influx of students from Windsor Park, which is why the division will also need government infrastructure funding to build an addition there, according to  Michalik.

This isn’t the first time such a swap has happened.

Due to similar growth in French immersion demands in St. Vital, in 2013-14 about 400 English K-8 students at George McDowell School were displaced when it was renamed École George-McDowell and became a French immersion middle school. Two other French immersion elementary schools, École Julie-Riel and École St. Germain, were reconfigured to become K-5 schools. 

“We’re doing this again and it’s because money is finite, and beyond that, building additions where they’re not necessary isn’t the most affordable, sustainable approach to solving this challenge,” said Michalik, suggesting renovations, not additions, were most appropriate for Windsor Park and Béliveau.

Sage Creek resident Kelly Sine has two boys, including one in Grade 7 at Windsor Park Collegiate who could be moved to J.H. Bruns, and one in Grade 5 who might one day end up at there, too.

She suggested her sons’ education could be greatly impacted because they would have fewer options, less amenities and a smaller teaching staff at J.H. Bruns.

Dozens of students gathered outside Windsor Park Collegiate on Monday to protest the planned swap. (Radio-Canada)

Béliveau is roughly 20,000 square feet smaller than Windsor Park and about 3,500 square feet smaller than J.H. Bruns.

Sine also highlighted concern over the fact that Windsor Park has two gyms and Béliveau has one.

“It’s not just one thing that concerns me or my family,” said Sine. “I don’t know exactly what their logic is for sort of combining the two programs.”

Michael Prokipchuk’s mother and Windsor Park alumni, Ina Prokipchuk, said parents against the move have written letters to school trustees and division leaders in recent weeks.

“There have been townhalls in the past couple weeks that we feel have really been rushed,” she said. “There’s lack of trust right now. I think we all need to regroup and dial this back.”

Last Friday, Windsor Park teachers delivered the message from the division to students. Windsor Park student Adam Donaghy made a petition that now has about 1,100 signatures asking the division to stop the move.

“I find this very disrespectful to the students,” Donaghy said. “If the switch does happen it will happen in my graduating year, and I want to spend my last [high school] memories in this school.”

Adam Donaghy, a student at Windsor Park Collegiate, started a petition against the planned school swap that has already gained 1,100 signatures. (Radio-Canada)

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