Parents speak on possible school closures

Roughly 500 people turn out for a public meeting at General Vanier Intermediate School in Cornwall, Ont., Monday, Jan. 24, 2017. The second public meeting allowed parents and community members to share their toughts with the board and ARC members. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – For the first time in the Upper Canada District School Board’s school review, which could see up to 30 schools closed across Eastern Ontario, members of the public got a chance to speak up in a public forum.

Around 500 people were at General Vanier Secondary School Monday night for the second and final public meeting as part of a school consolidation plan.

Much like the first meeting in November, the evening included delegations – 10 in this case – from various groups making alternate proposals and speaking to the health and wellbeing of students.

But, unlike the November meeting, the public was allowed to make three minute statements to members of the board and those on the local Accommodation Review Committees in Glengarry, Stormont and Cornwall.

While parents and students are upset and concerned about their schools, the meeting was very diplomatic and was somewhat relaxed with no police on scene.

“You have some big decisions ahead of you,” said one man. “This decision is important enough to have the council members in view and (I think you should) get the other (three) boards (involved). We shouldn’t be talking about cutting Upper Canada,” he said.

Former school board trustee Art Buckland wished there was an extension of a few months instead of the final decision on March 23, 2017.

“It has been suggested we must be saving money in this new process. One hundred and sixty schools in Toronto are half full. It’s fine to close those schools. There’s no real community there. We are each from a community. Each trustee is from a community and what’s more important than a community?” he asked.

Buckland said plans change, suggesting that 2016 was included in a 10 year plan, “which included million dollar additions for schools now proposed for closure.” The former trustee was also concerned the board’s plan would “take English out of Glengarry County.”

“Please listen to these people. Do not break my heart and remove English from Glengarry,” Buckland said to an energized applause.

Another man from South Glengarry acknowledged the tough job ahead for staff and ARC members to bring back plan of “something that can make sense to our communities…to our kids…I wouldn’t want to have your job. I want to say thank you for what you’re doing.” He also referenced an alternate proposal earlier in the evening which would save Char-Lan District High School by closing SJ McLeod and moving those students to Williamstown Public School.

Jeanie Warnock, whose son goes to North Stormont Public School, was concerned about the childhood obesity epidemic and having children on the bus to schools further away. “If you want to fight the obesity epidemic, if the province does, why don’t they walk the talk and keep our small schools open? Maybe it will save money for the school board but if the cost is the physical health of my son and his friends, I don’t think it’s worth it.”

South Stormont father Jason Crites criticized the board for a lack of leadership, saying parents are now fighting over where their kids are going to school. “That’s now how we make solutions to good education.”

Crites believes the proposal is based on a one-size-fits-all bad funding model. “When you get to answers like, you’re not going to have a high school in an entire municipality or we’re going to close high performing full schools, I can’t for the life of me figure out how that makes any sense.”

“This is just on-paper math we’re doing here. The ministry’s mandating this? Well, the ministry works for us, not the other way around. There’s no way closing schools and smashing buildings is the answer here,” Crites said.

The comments from the public will be reviewed by the Accommodation Review Committees at an upcoming meeting.

Another ARC meeting for the Dundas family of schools will happen next Tuesday (Jan. 31) at 6:30 p.m. at Seaway District High School in Iroquois.

The final staff report on the consolidation plan will come to the board during a special meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. There will be another special meeting on Thursday, March 2, 2017 for more delegations.

The board will be making its final decision March 23, 2017.