Spokesperson Gary Wheeler said the ministry has already “conducted comprehensive consultations with many of our education partners” on the news rules, which cut the existing seven-month minimum for closure reviews to as little as two and a half months.
While the ministry hasn’t sounded out local boards, it did solicit input from school board, trustee and municipal associations, parent groups and closure-review experts, he said.
The ministry now expects to issue the new guidelines early this year, Wheeler said in an email response to inquiries by Hamilton Community News.
“It must be noted that these guidelines only set the minimum provincial requirements, and that each school board is expected to amend their own policy to be in compliance with the revised standards,” he said.
“At that point, school boards will have the opportunity to consult with their communities on changes to their local policies and procedures within the framework of the ministry’s new pupil accommodation review guideline.”
Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board chair Todd White said he’s disappointed by the ministry’s decision.
He had called for wider consultation in a Dec. 18 letter to the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, one of the groups consulted by the ministry.
White said he will await the final version but hopes the new guidelines let boards go beyond the minimum requirements in a draft presented to the select groups in November.
“When the guidelines come, it’s very much a, ‘Thou shalt,’ versus, ‘What do you think?’” he said. “We hope that it doesn’t tie our hands on any particular issue.”
The draft changes included reducing membership on accommodation review committees, or ARCs, to parent/guardian representatives from affected schools and board administrators, although city councillors could be invited to join the table.
ARCs would no longer be asked to submit a final recommendation to trustees, but act as “a conduit for information sharing,” commenting on any staff closure options and potentially developing their own options.
The normal minimum review period would be shortened to five months and two public meetings from the existing seven months and four meetings, with the minimum public consultation period cut to 60 days from 90.
In some instances, boards could opt for a “shortened process” without an ARC that could be completed in two and a half months with just one public meeting.
White said there are some positive elements to the new rules, including that municipalities will be invited to help prepare the initial closure-study report, providing information on population trends and other aspects the board may not have.
“Obviously, we’ll have to wait and see what the final guidelines look like and then have our opportunity to rework them the best we can,” he said.