2021 Annual Report
ACÉPO wishes to reiterate that schools in Ontario’s French-language public school boards are, first and foremost, caring environments whose raison d’être is based on inclusion, respect and open-mindedness. 2021 was a stark reminder that teaching thousands of young people comes with tremendous responsibility. Let us remember the atrocities committed in residential schools, contribute to the ongoing truth and reconciliation work, and ensure we eliminate systemic racism from the school environment.
1. A Delicate Balance
ACÉPO was proud to unveil its new strategic plan last year, following in-depth consultation with its members, partners and communities. No effort was spared to ensure an inspiring plan that would propel French-language education to new heights. However, along came a global pandemic that disrupted our plans, made school management so much more complex and forced the Association and its member school boards to redirect their focus.
In 2021, ACÉPO continued to skillfully juggle its strategic objectives with the emergencies and new realities arising from COVID-19, while concentrating its efforts on increasing its political influence in order to prepare for the post-pandemic era.
Since the beginning of 2021, ACÉPO has adopted a different tone in its interactions with government. ACÉPO had to be more assertive with regard to the teacher shortage, on-line learning and school infrastructure. Legal proceedings are being considered with regard to some of these issues.
While always favouring collaboration, ACÉPO asserts itself and states its needs clearly. It strives to attain the delicate balance between maintaining constructive relationships with the government and upholding Francophones’ rights, with the continued aim of making political partners aware of both the needs and the impressive achievements of French-language public education in Ontario.
Denis M. Chartrand, President, ACÉPO
2. Perseverance and Determination
Never before has the Association had so many meetings with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Education, the Ministry’s senior management, key education stakeholders and its partners. ACÉPO got involved to the maximum extent possible in order to facilitate communication and decision making between stakeholders and French-language public school boards. On many issues, including those related to the pandemic, it became the primary intermediary between the Ministry and school boards.
Teaching Staff Shortage
In February, following about 100 hours of meetings, the Working Group on Teacher Shortage of which ACÉPO is a member, submitted 37 recommendations to the Minister of Education. In November, thanks in part to ACÉPO’s advocacy, the government finally launched the Comité de mise en œuvre de la stratégie sur le recrutement et la rétention du personnel enseignant de langue française. As a committee member, and aware of the great challenges school boards face daily due to the lack of qualified teachers, the Association’s goal is to speed up decision making to ensure the recommendations are implemented as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, several initiatives stemming from the recommendations were put forward in 2021. A pilot project aimed at recruiting teachers trained in France was launched by the Ministry. ACÉPO actively participates in this project and its international recruitment strategy. The government also launched an accelerated Technological Education teacher training program, in collaboration with the University of Ottawa. It should be recalled that such training had been unavailable in French for over 7 years, despite the Ontario government’s launch of a skilled trades training strategy in 2019. For years now, ACÉPO and the Conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l’Ontario (CSPGNO) have been alerting policy makers to the need to offer this training in French once again, and it would seem that the advocacy has finally paid off.
COVID-19Between the numerous meetings held and written submissions, some of ACÉPO’s demands were heard, including the return to regular semesters in high schools and the allocation of the second COVID-19 funding instalment to school boards. However, others are still pending. Additional efforts are required to safeguard the mental health of school staff and students, and to provide school boards with more flexibility to recruit retired teaching staff. Also, despite the Association’s multiple requests to the Ministry regarding reasonable advance notice, school boards are still too often pushed to the wall with imposed decisions that are communicated at the last minute. The Ministry’s refusal to delay the implementation of certain initiatives, despite the crisis environment in which all school boards in the province have been operating for almost two years, seems to suggest a disturbing trend toward the politicization of certain decisions. ACÉPO will continue to insist on a healthy separation between the political and the operational levels.
Public Education in Ontario
Ontario’s public education system has a new name – “ L’école publique en Ontario ” – and a new, unifying visual identity. A new strategy was implemented to shine a greater light on French-language public school boards and their association. This initiative is an excellent example of collaboration between ACÉPO and its four member boards.
In 2021, the offer of ongoing training for school trustees and student trustees was enhanced by Lunch & Learn sessions addressing timely topics, such as the modernisation of the Official Languages Act, remote learning, the influence of social media, and mental health. These sessions complemented the talks and workshops offered in January as part of the Public Education Symposium organized in conjunction with the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA). Despite the fact the Symposium was held virtually, a great number of school trustees attended talks on systemic racism, the teacher shortage, COVID-19 and the students’ experience during the pandemic, among other topics.
3. Building a Better Future
Truth and Reconciliation
ACÉPO has pledged to contribute fully to the truth and reconciliation work undertaken by our country. Schools must be environments where each student is welcomed and supported with kindness and respect. It is our collective duty to ensure the atrocities committed in residential schools are not forgotten.
ACÉPO will devote special attention to the teaching of our country’s Aboriginal history; strengthening its ties with Ontario’s Aboriginal communities; combating stereotypes and preconceptions; and supporting the five calls to action in the area of First Nations education that were developed by young leaders of the Assembly of First Nations in 2019.
Inclusive Work and Learning Environments
During ACÉPO’s 2021 Annual General Meeting, the Association presented school board chairpersons with plaques reaffirming the pluralistic nature of Ontario’s French-language public school boards.
ACÉPO also proceeded with the establishment of a committee on diversity and inclusion in order to create a forum for discussing issues that are fundamental to public school boards’ mission and vision, while allowing the Association to share centrally available information on these same issues, always with a view to helping school boards access centrally available resources without needlessly duplicating their efforts.
4. Political Influence and Strategic AlliancesACÉPO is redoubling its efforts to expand its political influence in order to seek allies within the government, among members of Parliament and key stakeholders in Education and Francophonie.
2021 Advocacy Event
ACÉPO’s advocacy event was part of its government relations strategy. It kicked off in June with a meeting with the Minister of Education and his parliamentary assistant, and ended in August with a discussion with the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. By the end of the event, ACÉPO had met 30 members of Parliament, including 12 Conservatives, 11 NDP and 7 Liberals.
Two and a half years after the Association’s first such event, it is obvious this advocacy work has yielded results. Politicians have a better understanding of ACÉPO and French-language public school boards, and have demonstrated a genuine desire to work with us. As a result of the respect earned by ACÉPO among Conservative decision makers in the last few years, 40% of the members of Parliament met were members of the governing party and half of them were Ministers.
Thanks to the approach taken in presenting key priorities, ACÉPO obtained the support of new allies who have offered their help in taking these issues forward. With less than six months before the provincial election, ACÉPO will ramp up its efforts to expand its political influence in order to win wider support within the government, among members of Parliament and key education stakeholders. One of ACÉPO’s first actions for 2022 will consist of organizing another advocacy event to discuss election platforms with each party.
Maintaining Virtual Learning Under the Management of School Boards
Since the government’s announcement in July 2020 to entrust the mandate of on-line learning to the Groupe Média TFO, ACÉPO, together with the Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC) and the Conseil ontarien des directions de l’éducation de langue française (CODELF), are calling for respect of Francophones’ constitutional rights.
During multiple meetings held over the past 18 months, ACÉPO has continued to demonstrate an openness to collaborating with the Ministry and TFO to find a solution that respects these rights. In an effort to avoid reinventing the wheel and to achieve economies of scale, the model proposed by ACÉPO and AFOCSC would rely on the seasoned teams from Centre franco and the French-Language Virtual Learning Consortium of Ontario (CAVLFO), and on a partnership with TFO to enhance the production of digital content.
Though it is difficult to know how the on-line learning file will be resolved, ACÉPO remains steadfast in its willingness to find a solution that meets the needs of students attending French-language schools, while respecting Francophones’ right to manage their schools.
The June 12, 2020 Supreme Court of Canada decision in British Columbia confirms that children of the linguistic minority across the province must benefit from an educational experience that is substantively equivalent to that of children of the majority. This ruling represents the biggest breakthrough in the area of French-language education in minority settings since the creation of French-language school boards.
In light of the ruling, ACÉPO has undertaken a long-term project that will allow it to position public French-language education very favourably for generations to come.
ACÉPO took advantage of Local Government Week to raise awareness among the general public and politicians on the importance and the role of school boards and trustees. ACÉPO video Nos réussites, sont vos réussites was sent to all MPPs. Highlighting the exceptional work that school boards do for Francophone students and communities, it reiterates that school trustees are elected by universal suffrage, and ensure nonpartisan governance, decisions that are adapted to local realities and a system that is focussed on students’ needs.
Through the Canadian School Boards Association, of which ACÉPO is a member, we are taking part in an in-depth study of the impact of the loss of local democratic voices. This research will draw comparisons between provinces that have eliminated their school boards and those that still have them. The study’s results will allow ACÉPO to have evidence-based discussions on the critical role of school boards and their trustees.
University by, for and with Francophones in Northern OntarioAn enhanced offering of French-language educational programs and services, from early childhood through to postsecondary, is essential for the sustainability of Francophone communities in Ontario. Following the elimination of French-language programs at Laurentienne University, ACÉPO has expressed its support for the creation of a university by, for and with Francophones in the Greater Sudbury area. All Francophone students should have access to nearby French-language postsecondary and university education that offers a range of courses that is as comprehensive as possible.
5. Labour Relations and Organizational Development
A Consolidated Labour Relations Team
This year, François Laperle joined ACÉPO as the new Director of Labour Relations and Organizational Development. François has accumulated over 25 years of management experience and served 14 years in Ontario’s French-language education systems, the past 7 as Executive Director of Human Resources at the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario. He has also been actively involved in the various central bargaining tables since the introduction of the 2014 School Boards Collective Bargaining Act.
In July, it was Catherine Chereau-Sharp’s turn to become an ACÉPO employee as Labour Relations Officer. Catherine has worked in various human resources positions for over 20 years, including 11 years at the Conseil scolaire Viamonde.
Their combined wealth of experience and knowledge are a great asset for ACÉPO and the labour relations support it provides to French-language public school boards and Consortium Centre Jules-Léger.
Principals/Vice-Principals Discussion TableIn December 2021, 18 months after the start of the discussion process, a central agreement was reached at the school principals and vice-principals table. The discussions involved the 3 provincial principals’ associations, the 4 school board associations, and the Crown. Over 40 days were devoted to direct discussion and/or preparation to ensure the success of the process, which focused on school principals and vice-principals’ working conditions. The agreement reached meets the expectations of all parties and is to be ratified by school boards during the first months of 2022.
Operationalizing the Integration of Consortium Centre Jules-LégerTogether with AFOCSC, ACÉPO has continued to make its expertise available to Consortium Centre Jules-Léger (CCJL) in order to facilitate the transition of current CCJL employees into the provincial bargaining structure. Indeed, at the request of CCJL, ACÉPO’s labour relations team supported CCJL’s management team on establishing the first collective agreements that will fall under the application of the 2014 School Boards Collective Bargaining Act. This delicate transition will represent an important milestone for CCJL.
Provincial DisputesACÉPO has continued to play an important role in the application and interpretation of collective agreements during the past year. The late signing of the collective agreements in 2020, combined with the effects of the pandemic, resulted in a substantial increase in the number of central disputes filed in 2021. ACÉPO is involved in all disputes concerning a union present in one of its school boards or the CCJL. The table below presents the disputes filed since September 1, 2019.
Table of disputes filed from September 1, 2019 to December 31, 2021
|Provincial disputes||ACÉPO||AFOCSC||OPSBA||OCSTA||Unions TOTAL
In 2022, ACÉPO will continue to collaborate with other school board associations, school boards and union groups in order to identify satisfactory solutions for all parties to reduce the number of filed disputes.
Organizational DevelopmentThe constraints imposed by the pandemic significantly increased public school boards’ workloads, while limiting resources to advance other priorities. ACÉPO has continued to play its leadership role during the pandemic by providing school boards with turnkey solutions, such as draft policies and legal opinions, in order to facilitate the work of our member school boards.
6. Income and Expenditures
ACÉPO’s audited financial statements present fairly the Association’s financial position as at August 31, 2021.