Quebec’s Bill 96 disregards students who struggle to learn languages, Montreal mom says 

"Some people just don't have the capability," says Rosemarie Federico, as she's worried that her 16-year-old son, who's neurodivergent, might not be able to attend an English CEGEP because of Quebec's French language law. Swidda Rassy reports.

A Montreal mom is worried her 16-year-old son, who’s neurodivergent, might not be able to attend an English CEGEP because of Quebec’s French language law.

Rosemarie Federico says her son Dante Chiappone struggles with language learning and believes Bill 96 could negatively impact his future.

“If you won’t deny a child a prosthetic leg if they’re missing a leg, why would you deny a child who has a disability that’s not visible to the eye?” asked Federico. “Because it’s not visible, it doesn’t matter? It matters just as much as the child who has a visible disability.

“If it’s not right for my child, it’s not right for anybody’s child.”

Montreal mother Rosemarie Federico (left) with her son Dante Chiappone in May 2024. (Swidda Rassy, CityNews)

Under Bill 96, all CEGEP students at English schools must take three French-language courses to graduate. But for Chiappone, who will be applying to colleges this fall, learning any new language has always been a challenge.

“From a young age, I thought, ‘oh, maybe I don’t learn the language that much,’” Chiappone said. “But I realized that I don’t know the language, I can’t have a language block, I can’t learn it. I would say in school, the highest I would get would be a 50.”

If accepted to CEGEP, Chiappone will have to apply for an exemption to have his French language requirements overlooked. But it’s still not clear if he would have to take the mandatory French courses required by Bill 96.

“The problem is you have special needs children that get derogations in high school for special needs for a variety of reasons,” said Katherine Korakakis, president of the English Parents’ Committee Association of Quebec. “It could be autism, it could be language disorders, whatever it is. None of those derogations as of yet have been reflected in this new curriculum that we’ve put in place.”

Last week, Quebec French Language Minister Jean-François Roberge said English school boards need to work harder to improve the quality of French for elementary and high school graduates. Roberge said “it’s not normal” to attend a CEGEP in Quebec without being able to pass a French test.

Korakakis says it’s not as easy as it sounds for some students.

“We’ve been asking what about special needs children, what’s going to happen? Still no information,” she said.

WATCH: Quebec judge says Bill 96 will cause ‘delays’ in English trials

CityNews reached out to the office of Quebec’s French language minister but did not immediately hear back.

“I’m not fighting because I don’t believe in languages,” Federico said. “I’m fighting because some people just don’t have the capability to learn another language. So what are we going to do with them? We’re just going to toss them aside and forget about them? No.”

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