Tuka (left) and Belal Alhamwi, with their son attending English classes at Forsyth Education Centre in Dartmouth. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

 “We are not happy that our school is closing March 31. We don’t want that to happen. We want our school to stay open. Our school is like a family to us. Please change your decision.”

That petition was signed and delivered to federal and provincial politicians last month by 200 adult immigrant and refugee students studying English as an Additional Language (EAL) in Dartmouth. Many were upset to learn that their teachers had received layoff notices from the Halifax Regional School Board. The Board has provided EAL training for decades at the Forsyth Centre in Dartmouth, and more recently, at the former Bedford Central School.

The petition has not prevented the language school in Dartmouth from closing, but the good news is their education will continue uninterrupted. Registration is now underway for 350 adults moving to new schools in Halifax for April 3.

The lessons will continue next month at two locations, but instead of being administered by the Halifax School Board, the Immigrant Settlement Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) will take over responsibility. ISANS had less than a month’s notice of the change. The School Board chose in February not to renew its contract with the federal Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, in anticipation of an announcement by the department about a change in how training would be delivered in the future.

The timing of that announcement was of concern to the school board because it employs 22 EAL teachers on contract who would need to be paid if they did not receive the two months’ notice required.

Those teachers aren’t the only people affected by the decision of the Halifax Regional School Board. It turns out that the contract with Ottawa also included the board administering a program called Teaching Immigrants English (TIE) for adults living in communities from Sydney to Yarmouth.

The Nova Scotia Office of Immigration pays 33 full- and part-time EAL teachers working with more than 180 adults in the TIE program. TIE finishes June 30 and at this point it’s unclear who will manage the service in the future (ISANS says it is not part of those discussions). Here’s the email response The Examiner received from Kelly Bennett, communications advisor with the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration:

We remain committed to working with our partners to ensure all new residents have the language services they need, where they need them. In January, the Halifax Regional School Board approached the Office of Immigration about transferring the Teaching Immigrants English Program (TIE) to another service provider at the end of the school year (June 2017). We’re working closely with the HRSB to transition TIE to another provider.

That’s reassuring. But at this point, neither the province not the school board is willing to divulge the identity of any community organization in discussions with the Office of Immigration about providing lessons for adult immigrants in rural Nova Scotia next fall.

Back in Dartmouth, where students voiced their concerns because they were worried about the potential for significant disruption to their education, Gerry Mills, the executive-director of ISANS, says “we’re working very hard to ensure no disruption to these students because of the move.”

ISANS was already teaching English to 300 to 400 other adults at locations on Mumford Road and the ManuLife building on Joseph Howe Drive. The addition of 350 new students effectively doubles that workload. Mills says the agency has leased another floor on Joseph Howe Drive and expanded the number of childcare spaces to 60 at that site. There are 26 childcare spaces at ISAN’s Mumford Road location, where some new students will be transferred.

ISANS is also in the process of hiring 23 teachers and four or five childcare workers because of the expansion of the English language program. Some of the teachers being offered jobs worked at the two schools where the program is shutting down; others had short-term contracts with ISANS. All must compete for the new positions. Mills says the Early Childhood educators at the Dartmouth location have all been offered work in Halifax.

Concerns about the re-location have been expressed by community groups in Dartmouth supporting refugee families with young children in Dartmouth schools and parents who will soon be travelling daily across the harbour for English lessons. But ISANS says a survey of students in the school board program showed 69 per cent of Dartmouth’s Forsyth Centre students (who registered in the past year) live in Halifax. At the school in Bedford, as many as 80 per cent of the adult students reside in Halifax.

The first day in their new schools will be April 3.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. I presume it is mostly about the money HRSB receives from the federal and provincial governments.
    HRSB is required to provide education to children from elementary to Grade 12.
    they should stick to the mandate they are given under the Education Act.

  2. I am one of the 33 teachers teaching EAL in rural Nova Scotia who is impacted by the Halifax Regional School Board’s decision. Until reading today’s article I had assumed this was a decision by the Office of Immigration. Had no idea that this was the result of a decision by HRSB.

    My learners and I are curious whether any English-language teaching services will be available after June 30. Fortunately, my learners and I are in the Antigonish area where there are other language instruction programs available. This is not the case in the more rural and remote areas of the province and I do hope that an solution can be found soon. Thank you for covering this story.