Schools saved, for now

MORRISBURG – Upper Canada District School Board schools in South Dundas are off the chopping block, for now. This comes from the revised and final report from board administration, that will be presented to the trustees February 15th.

The 118 page report, released February 13th on the UCDSB website, reduced the number of schools slated to close from 29 to 12.

In the initial draft report, Morrisburg Public and Seaway District High School were slated to close at the end of the 2016-17 school year. Students attending Morrisburg and Iroquois Public schools would then be merged and relocated in the vacated high school, pending funding for a rebuild of Iroquois Public. The revised plan maintains the three schools in South Dundas, but it does not indicate the schools are safe from future closure consideration.

“Ultimately, acknowledging the desire from the Seaway community to find an alternative to the closure of Seaway D.H.S has clarified through this process that more time is required to reach a solution for the Seaway feeder group of schools,” said the report.

The report specified that implementing a K-12 structure for the school would make better use of the facility, but not address the programming issues involving Grade 9-12 enrollment.

“Additionally, it is recognized that further consideration could be given to potential solutions as they relate to consolidation arrangements between South Grenville D.H.S., North Dundas D.H.S. and Brockville schools,” the report stated.

Transportation concerns were acknowledged, but recommendations indicated more time is needed to consider alternatives. This includes looking at ride times elsewhere in the UCDSB as well as other school boards in the region.

The report indicates a challenge between the two elementary schools regarding French language instruction stating that a solution needs to be found “that meets the delicate balance between program viability, equity of access and parental choice.”

No timelines for future consideration of the Seaway family of schools was indicated in the report.

Under Ministry of Education guidelines, schools considered for closure under the Pupil Accommodation Review process cannot be considered under the same process again for five years. It is unclear if the removal of the Seaway family of schools from the UCDSB final report qualifies the schools for that five year exemption.
An inquiry to UCDSB officials by The Leader was not returned by press time.

“Obviously I am thrilled but I do think this is just a beginning of building a working relationship with the UCDSB,” said Kirsten Gardner, member of the Seaway ARC committee for Morrisburg Public.

“I hope the community sees that we need to be more engaged with our schools, and that we are able to work with the board to improve our schools,” she said.
When asked about MPS not receiving the Early French Immersion program, a common theme heard throughout the January 31st public meeting, Gardner said she believed MPS was a viable school without it.

“But I hope that we are able to give the same level of French instruction to that of the neighbouring Catholic school,” said Gardner. “In a perfect world, EFI would help MPS in the long run, but there is more to it than just putting immersion in the school.”

Carol Collard, ARC member representing Seaway, and current parent council chair, said she was proud of the community coming together and supporting all of our local schools.

“I am ecstatic that our school has been removed from the list of closures,” Collard told The Leader. “Seaway will continue to find ways to improve the programming aspect of our local school.”

IPS ARC member Joyce Latulippe echoed Collard’s comments.

“I am very thankful that the board heard our message and is willing to work with us to build a long term solution for education in South Dundas,” she said.
Latulippe added, “I feel terrible for the communities still fighting, because I spent the last week trying to figure out what the next step could be for us.”

South Dundas mayor Evonne Delegarde was cautious in her response to news of the schools being removed from the closure list.

“Very pleased. It was the request we had made,” said Delegarde. “Hopefully the trustees will agree with the revised report.”
Delegarde added that the outcome for the United Counties is overall good, except for R-O.

Asked about the proposed plans for the business incubator or other initiatives that would see the municipality partner with the UCDSB for space, Delegarde said that South Dundas was still working with partners for the planned business incubator, and with the high-skills program.

“As this continues to progress, we’ll see what happens after the March 23rd board meeting,” she said. “We will continue to build on the progress we are working on.”

No French-Immersion for MPS

Included in the revised plan was the implementation of the board’s dual-track Early French Immersion (EFI) program in several schools to harmonize programming where elementary schools are proposed for closure or boundaries are being moved. Six schools will receive the EFI program. Morrisburg Public is not on that list.

R-O goes, Longue Sault stays

Four county high schools including Seaway were considered in the draft report. While Seaway, Glengarry District High School in Alexandria and Char-Lan District High School in Williamstown were spared, Rothwell-Osnabruck Secondary remains on the closure list.

Under the revised plan, R-O’s Kindergarten to Grade 6 students would remain at R-O. Grade 7 to 12 students from that school would be bused to Tagwi Secondary in Avonmore.

Longue Sault Public School, which was on the closure list, has been removed and will remain open, with graduating students attending Tagwi for Grade 7-12.

“I was truly shocked and disappointed when reading the final report to trustees,” Jennifer MacIsaac told The Leader. MacIsaac was one of two ARC members for R-O. “Our community had a united solution for both LSPS and R-O Secondary from the beginning.”

She believes that the families in South Stormont will continue to fight to keep R-O Secondary open.

“It is completely asinine for the fastest growing municipality (South Stormont) in all of SD and G to be the only one left with no secondary school,” she said. “Why should our families bus their children out of a thriving community that supports its schools.”

Benson remains on closure list

A school that did not escape the board’s final report is Benson Public School in Cardinal. Citing enrollment and high costs for school renewal, the school remains on the chopping block. Students attending Benson will be bused to South Edwardsburg Public in Johnstown.

Next steps

The final report is being presented at a special trustee meeting February 15th meeting at North Grenville District High School. Trustees will not make the final decision on closures until March 23rd.

Two public delegation meetings will occur, one on March 1st and a second on March 2nd.

After that, the board will have a further meeting for discussion and debate. Trustees can amend, remove or add motions to the plan.

A final vote scheduled for March 23rd, is to be held at North Grenville High.

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