Stop closing schools
The calls to keep rural Ontario schools open made it to Queen’s Park on Monday.
[province wide] groups, organized to represent their schools against closures, were among hundreds of people from across the province who were in Toronto, calling for a moratorium on school closures and for provincial pupil accommodation review guidelines to be rewritten.
“It went very well,” Williamsford-area parent Diane Ferguson said following the rally. “What we are trying to do obviously is gain attention to our concerns and I feel we are gaining the attention of the politicians and the attention of our newspapers. I think it is a step forward.”…
Monday’s rally was organized by the Ontario Alliance Against School Closures, which also held a news conference, attended Question Period and delivered a letter to Education Minister Mitzie Hunter.
Ferguson, a member of Save OSCVI and the Ontario-wide alliance, said well over 200 attended the rally with areas across the province represented, including Sarnia, Sudbury, Grey-Bruce and eastern Ontario. Approximately 30 people from Grey-Bruce took part.
The letter to Hunter calls for a moratorium on school closures and has been signed by 42 groups from across Ontario that are trying to keep their schools from closing, as well as organizations like the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
Hunter said in a statement on Monday afternoon that she had met with parents, she understands their concerns and she has been in conversation with school boards representatives and trustees about the concerns being raised.
“What is important is that this process ensures parents voices are heard and that they do have input into the accommodation review process, which is factored in as the school boards make decisions about their schools,” Hunter said in the statement.
She said the province is investing more than ever before in rural schools and they want to ensure the money is being used for “student learning, student programming and student outcomes.”
“We don’t want this funding to be used for inefficient use of space and empty classrooms — we want these investments to be made in classrooms where students are learning,” Hunter said. “Local school boards are in the best position to make decisions that impact their local communities and we need to support the school boards as they are making these tough decisions about their schools.”
The newly formed Ontario Alliance Against School Closures is made up of representatives from school groups across the province. Save OSCVI, which is one of the groups involved in creating the alliance, was formed after a review recommended closing OSCVI as a high school and converting it into an elementary school. That recommendation moved forward and all public secondary school students in the Owen Sound area began attending Owen Sound District Secondary School, formerly West Hill Secondary School, in September. The former OSCVI, which has yet to be named, is slated to become an elementary school beginning in September 2017.
Ferguson said while they had the support of the opposition politicians on Monday, she believes the Liberal politicians are still toeing the party line.
“The more noise you make, eventually you would like to think they will start listening,” said Ferguson. “We will keep putting the pressure on. This doesn’t stop here.”
The alliance has been critical of both the province’s funding formula for schools, which they say does not take into consideration the unique circumstances of rural Ontario schools, as well as the pupil accommodation review guidelines.
The accommodation review guidelines were changed in March 2015 so that they no longer require school boards to prove their decision to close a school showed value to the community or local economy, and Ferguson said those are two of their biggest issues.
“We just want education fixed,” she said.
Rob Gowan, Sun Times, Owen Sound