UCDSB reverses school closure decision

BROCKVILLE – Trustees with the region’s largest school board voted September 28 to remove a Kemptville area school from its school closure list.

Oxford-on-Rideau Public School was to close in September 2018, once space became available at a nearby school. Upper Canada District School Board trustees voted to amend the closure list and take the school off the list. Since the March 2017 closure order, the school has received many extensions due to capacity issues at other UCDSB schools in North Grenville to take those students. The board voted in January 2022 to further postpone the closure to September 2023.

In tabling the amendment motion to remove Oxford-on-Rideau from the school closure list, Trustee John McAllister (Ward 4) said conditions had changed from the Pupil Accommodation Review proceedings six years ago.

“I think we have an opportunity to end the doubt and to take Oxford-on-Rideau off the closure list,” he said. “North Grenville had the highest [projected] population growth in Leeds-Grenville. Well five years later, that has been realized.”

McAllister said the population growth was recognition of many wanting a “rural way of life” and said that hamlets like Oxford Mills were “communities where valuable connections are made.” He added that the rapid demographic changes in Kemptville and the broader North Grenville community supported that.

Trustee Lisa Swan (Ward 6) advocated for keeping the school open during the accommodation review process in 2016-17. Since the closure decision, she said she has monitored the growth in the area, which is in her ward.

“The municipality is still expecting growth and is out-pacing their current projections,” she told trustees explaining that enrolment at the school is up this school year.

Ninety students are attending Oxford-on-Rideau this fall, an increase of 19 students from the end of the 2021-22 school year. Currently the school is at 37 per cent capacity. Nearby Kemptville Public School is at 117 per cent of its capacity and has six portables. That school was opened in 2017. South Branch Elementary, the other UCDSB school in the community now has the available space to house students from Oxford-on-Rideau. However that would push SBE near to its capacity limits.

“They could be accommodated,” Swan explained saying that trustees were reassured by staff that closing Oxford-on-Rideau would not result in students housed in portables. She said she did not believe it would be long before portables were placed at SBE if the school closure took place.

“The growth continues in North Grenville, and it’s been over municipal projections,” said Swan.

Trustee David McDonald (Ward 8) was the lone dissenting voice at the board table.

“I struggle with this one because we made a decision a number of years ago because of certain criteria,” he said. “We had to look at the overall facility condition and the enrolment.”

He said that the school had been given multiple reprieves based on the promise that students from Oxford-on-Rideau would not be placed in portables at other schools, which McDonald said he had an issue with as well.

“We do have a number of students in portables and we tell them it is safe and good learning.”

He continued by saying a majority of the growth in North Grenville was either in families without children or those who choose other school options.

“So when we have Kemptville with portables and South Branch at capacity, then we have done something right.”

McDonald offered his opinion to the motives to trustees for keeping the school open – politics.

“This is political posturing. This is an opportunity for people to put themselves in to a position going into an election to make a statement, and I think that is wrong,” he said. “That is a disservice to all students in Upper Canada and I think that is an opportunity that we should not move upon.”

Trustee John McCrae (Ward 5) challenged the enrolment issues at the school suggesting people did not choose Oxford-on-Rideau because the school was on the closure list already.

Swan denied the motion is a political move.

“The schools are fi lling up faster than expected. I’d hate to have egg on our face down the road when we are at capacity and cannot find land to build another school.”

A majority of the trustees supported removing the school from the closure list. McDonald was the lone vote against the motion. Oxford-on-Rideau was removed
from the closure list, an unprecedented move for a school board in Ontario to make in recent years.

Oxford-on-Rideau was one of 12 schools trustees voted to close in March 2017 after a seven month long pupil accommodation review process. Seaway District High School was onthe chopping block in a draft proposal as part of that review, as was Morrisburg and Iroquois Public Schools. Early in 2017, the three schools were removed from consideration.

Other schools that were voted closed included Benson Public School in Cardinal, and the Grade 7-12 portion of Rothwell-Osnabruck School in Ingleside. This spring, North Stormont Public School in Berwick closed after an expansion was completed at Roxmore Public School. That school was renamed Avonmore Elementary School in the process. The two UCDSB secondary schools, Cornwall Collegiate Vocational School and St. Lawrence Secondary School are slated to be consolidated under the same closure list into one new school. Funding was approved by the Ministry of Education to build a new school, the board is still has not completed a land purchase for the new build.

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