Seven months after a young Ukrainian hockey team captured the hearts of Canadians at the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament, six of the boys who have returned to the province to study and play hockey this year find themselves unable to go to school.
Almost three weeks after arriving in Quebec City, they're still awaiting authorization from the Ministry of Education to study in English.
Sean Bérubé, the volunteer who co-ordinated the team's involvement with the tournament and who has helped organize the boys' move abroad, says he's beginning to worry about their academic success.
"The school year has started, and when the kids will be able to join in, they'll be quite behind," he said.
Sean Bérubé has helped organize all the travel plans and visas for the kids to allow them to move to Quebec for the school year. (Anne-Sophie Roy/Radio-Canada)
He says it's also been difficult for the boys' host families because they have had to rearrange their schedules during the day to be able to go to work.
The boys were expected to start Grade 8 at St. Patrick's High School in the hockey program.
Bérubé says all the paperwork is in, but the process seems to be delayed by a backlog at the Education Ministry.
In the meantime, he says he's been paying out of pocket to rent ice time for the boys to practise and speaking with some host families about a way to provide them with some school assignments.
"These are young people who haven't been to school in person for almost two years because of the war. It's something they really miss, and they're so eager to get started," he said.
Large number of requests, ministry says
The boys came to Quebec through a special temporary visa offered by the federal government to Ukrainians fleeing the war. It allows them to study and stay in Canada until it is safe for them to return home.
To be able to study at an English school in Quebec, however, the boys must be granted language exceptions.
"It's not that [the boys] didn't want to take a francization program," said Bérubé. St. Patrick's was simply the only school in the Quebec City area that could accommodate them at a moment's notice in its elite hockey program.
He says the young players got their study permits when they arrived in Quebec but are still waiting for their special authorization to attend school in English.
The Beaucage-Robert host family with Ukrainian hockey player Matvii Kulish, centre. (Anne-Sophie Roy/Radio-Canada )
In a statement to Radio-Canada on Wednesday, the Education Ministry said it's dealing with a "very large number of requests for eligibility to study in English," adding processing times are usually 10 business days.
"The applications of the young Ukrainian hockey players have been received and are complete," said spokesperson Bryan St-Louis in an email.
He said the analysis is expected to be completed by Sept. 26.
For his part, Bérubé says the ministry has been very helpful throughout the process and has kept him informed.
"I hope and trust that this will be resolved soon," he said.