‘Save our Seaway’ group joins provincial lobby against school closures

Seaway District High School has supporters who are rallying to prevent its proposed closure. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

IROQUOIS — The Upper Canada School Board isn’t alone in proposing to axe multiple schools this political term — and outraged parents and students are linking up across the province in a fight to save their cherished schools from the “drastic” close-and-consolidate trend promoted by the governing Wynne Liberals.

Supporters of Seaway District High School in Iroquois — one of 16 UCDSB schools on the proposed chopping block — are the latest to officially align themselves with the Ontario Alliance Against School Closures (OAASC) that opposes the “largest and fastest school closure sweep in Ontario’s history.”   The provincial lobby group is demanding the government impose an immediate moratorium on school closures and cease the activities of pupil Accommodation Review Committees — the precursor to school closure. They deride the province’s March 2015 changes to the overarching guideline as “flawed,” undemocratic and in need of rewriting.

Earlier this week, the group sent a letter slamming the process to Education Minister Mitzie Hunter, signed by a dozen groups associated with the OAASC. (Those trying to save Char-Lan District High School joined in time to get their name on the document.)

The organization now awaits a response from the minister but plans on holding a press conference in the lobby at Queen’s Park on Nov. 16.

“Almost 50” schools are proposed for closure in Ontario at the moment, says Amy Austin of Barrie, a spokesperson for the OAASC contacted by Nation Valley News. This figure is expected to rise, she warns, as school boards present capital plans to the province by a January deadline.

The trend toward school closures and amalgamations is “absolutely” driven at the provincial level, according to Austin, whose own local “save our school” group recently lost a fight to prevent the closure of a Barrie high school. “One hundred percent, it’s provincial policy that has created this situation.”

Policy makers must realize that “schools are a community … and an actual soul of the community,” she says.

Grappling with 10,000 excess student spaces, the UCDSB has proposed the closure of up to 29 schools — 16 in a first round that would take effect at the end of this school year if original staff recommendations are accepted by the board of trustees this March.

“It really came as a shock to me that this is happening all over Ontario,” says Sandra Cummins, affiliated with the Seaway group, in an email to Nation Valley News. “When the UCDSB told us that they were in PAR [Pupil Accommodation Review] due to budget restraints, we thought it was isolated.  The fact that this is happening all across the province without the input of communities is alarming and staggering.”

Cummins points out that Accommodation Review committees were previously set up as a decision-making bodies but “now we are merely ‘conduits of information’.  We have been shut down before this process even began,” she writes, after alleging that ARC members don’t even know what’s expected of them in the report they’re to produce for the board by early February.

“Last March, when the Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline was rewritten, communities lost a significant voice at the table giving school boards the freedom to ram these school closures through without resistance,” says Susan MacKenzie, another OAASC spokesperson, in a press release from the organization. “Community schools are under siege, carried by this tidal wave of closures across the province. The revised guideline has pitted the province and school boards against our communities.”

The closures “unreasonably disenfranchise children in rural and northern regions,” MacKenzie says, pointing to long bus rides imposed on other communities.

The current body of students at Seaway would be split between North Dundas District High School and South Grenville District High School — forcing them to take daily respective bus trips to Chesterville and Prescott.

Unhappy students at the Iroquois school held a rally today (Oct. 27) at the nearby Iroquois Plaza to protest their plight.

Seaway supporters plan a community demonstration Nov. 4 at the school property. The ‘Save our Schools’ event starts at 5:30 p.m.

 


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