Editorial: Lift ban but proceed with caution

A recent call by the Ontario Public School Board Association to end the six-year long moratorium on school closures has school advocates rightly concerned about the possibility of having to fight for their schools yet again.

The school closure moratorium was introduced after an unprecedented number of school closures and consolidations were approved by school boards – including in the Upper Canada District School Board – in the 2016-17 school year. In its request for Ontario’s Ministry of Education to end the moratorium, the OPSBA cites an inability to right-size schools for the changing demographics. Some boards cannot address capacity issues due to population booms.

Advocates such as the Community Schools Alliance are concerned that reforms to the Pupil Accommodation Review process have not been completed, and that the potential for harm to schools and their communities are great. These concerns are echoed in our community after our own fight to save schools seven years ago.

Balancing the need for schools in some communities to be improved, with the concerns of communities who fear the loss of their school hub, is not an easy challenge. Ultimately, the moratorium is overdue to be lifted, but with changes to the process.

Before lifting the moratorium, the province needs to complete its own homework reforming the accommodation review process, guaranteeing more input from the broader community before decisions are made. Closing a school is not just about dollars and cents, but about what a school means, how it is supported and used by a community. The CSA has said that schools that receive the provinces’ Rural and Northern Education Funding grant should be exempt from any closure consideration – we fully agree. In the UCDSB, most of the schools that were considered for closure in 2016-17 qualify and use RNEF funding – including Morrisburg Public School, Iroquois Public School, and Seaway District High School.

Regardless of what the moratorium lifting looks like, UCDSB chair John McAllister has said that his board has done the “heavy lifting” so no closures will happen here. That is reassuring, but it does not mean the South Dundas community should be complacent about its schools. The local mind-set needs to continue to improve. There needs to be a concerted effort in South Dundas to support all its publicly-funded schools. Words and attitudes matter. This is no time to pit one school against another in our community, or in any community. Regardless of your school of choice, it does not mean other schools are any better or worse – considering that all teach the same curriculum. School, any school, is a good thing. A school is the hub of the community and far too often when a school is closed, community suffering is not far behind.

Schools equal community and communities work together for the betterment of all. If the province gives the school boards this super power, use it for what it is intended – the good of the students.

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