Education minister tours UCDSB schools slated for closure

Ontario Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter visited four schools in the eastern portion of the Upper Canada District School Board January 10th. Pictured above, the minister (right) is greeted at Longue Sault Public School by the school’s principal, Kieran Kennedy (left). (The Leader/Blancher photo)

LONG SAULT – Ontario Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter visited four schools slated for closure in the Upper Canada District School Board on Tuesday, January 10th.

The minister visited Longue Sault Public School in Long Sault Tuesday morning, with stops scheduled at Cornwall Collegiate Vocational School in Cornwall, Glengarry District High School in Alexandria, and Char-Lan District High School in Williamstown later in the day.

UCDSB trustees and senior board officials were in attendance for the tours with the minister.

“Well this is really an opportunity for me to be here to meet with the school board, to meet with the students of course, and educators, and the community,” Hunter told The Leader in an interview before her tour of Longue Sault Public.

“This is a unique situation that the Upper Canada District School Board is looking into right now with regards to the accommodation review process, which is well underway.”

Hunter stated that the UCDSB is consulting with the community via the accommodation review committees.

“I am here to listen as well to really ensure that as these decisions are made that we’re keeping the focus of providing the best possible supports for students, the best programming for students and I recognize that these decisions are very challenging for the board, but at the end of the day it is about providing the best possible programming for our students here in Eastern Ontario,” said Hunter.

Local, municipal and provincial lobbying groups have been calling on the government to impose a moratorium on school closures citing issues with the accommodation review process. When asked by The Leader, Hunter did not state that a moratorium was being considered.

“Well, in fact, what is happening here with the accommodation review process is that it is consulting and listening to the community,” said Hunter.

“So all that the board is considering at this time is how to make the best possible decision that they are facing for the best interest of the students in Eastern Ontario. Where do they need to locate these schools; what are the types of programs that are required at all levels.”

Hunter explained that the government wants to provide good programming for students.

“We want our students to have great programming, you know they are facing a 21st century world where they have to be equipped with the skills that they need and that is what the board is focused on. That’s why I am here today, to listen to the board, and the education community, here in Eastern Ontario,” she said.

Local MPP Jim McDonell was in attendance at the minister’s tour of Longue Sault.

“It’s good the minister is here to get a view of the rural schools and how important they are,” said McDonell.

“It’s important for her to see that rural Ontario is different than the cities, that the facilities and programs are important to our rural communities.”

When asked by The Leader if it was good that the minister was here, UCDSB Superintendent Tim Mills replied, “We’ll have to see.”

The minister’s tour was part of a two-day swing through Eastern Ontario, having spent January 9th touring schools in Ottawa. No schools from South Dundas were selected for the minister’s tour.

“Any school board is pleased to have the education minister visit,” UCDSB chair Jeff McMillan told The Leader.

“The school board did not set her itinerary, there was no input from the board on which schools to visit. That was the minister’s office,” said McMillan.

“It is my job now to reinforce to the minister that all schools across the board face the same challenges.”