Editorial – Schools: Five years later

Five years ago two schools in South Dundas were saved from the chopping block. The Upper Canada District School Board proposed in September 2016 closing Morrisburg Public and Seaway District High Schools. That board’s proposal to shutter two-out-of three of its schools in this community was both shocking, and devastating.

South Dundas rallied. Experts, residents, and students all spoke out against the closures. Alternatives to closing the two schools were proposed. The January 31, 2017 Pupil Accommodation Review meeting at Seaway saw 1,000 people pack the gymnasium and overflow into other parts of the school, all in support of the school. In issuing its revised closure list two weeks later, South Dundas’ schools were removed from the list. Other communities to the east and west were less fortunate.

In its final review report, the UCDSB acknowledged that there was a desire from the Seaway community to find an alternative to closing Seaway and MPS and that more time was required “to reach a solution for the Seaway feeder group of schools.” The report also said that “further consideration could be given to potential solutions as they relate to consolidation arrangements between South Grenville DHS, North Dundas DHS and Brockville schools.”

The Ontario government placed a province-wide moratorium on school closures after the 2016-17 school year. That moratorium is still in effect, for now. Under the provincial guidelines, once a school is considered under the PAR process, it cannot be looked at again for five years. For South Dundas, it has now been five years.

A look at the schools in South Dundas that were in jeopardy shows little change. There was a donation of computer equipment by Ross Video to the schools, and the introduction of coding after school. The coding program lasted one year and there are now less options for STEM curriculum than before. A proposed information technology Specialist High Skills Major program at Seaway was denied by the province and never reapplied for. This was all before the last two years of pandemic restrictions and on-and-off remote learning.

Many South Dundas residents have stopped paying attention to the issue. When the primary fight to save the schools in 2017 was over, status quo and complacency returned.

To be clear, there is no agenda or conspiracy to close rural schools, but there is data. Stagnant enrolment, aged facilities that are now five years older, a lack of progress in programming, and complacent school communities contribute data points to affect a board’s decision on when, not if, another review of the viability of some of our schools will take place.

The community has had five years to get behind, support, and improve our schools. Will it take another closure battle to end the complacency?

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