Provincial group calls to end school closure moratorium

BROCKVILLE – A call to end the provincial moratorium for school closures in Ontario has the support in principle of the chair of the largest English-language school board in the region, but that does not mean closures will happen here.

Last week, the Ontario Public School Board Association – which represents 40 English-Public school boards and school authorities – called on the Ford Government to lift a 2017 school closure moratorium.

OPSBA President Cathy Abraham explained that the six-year moratorium has created unsustainable issues in its members’ schools. Enrolment imbalances have boards with overcrowded schools in some locations, and hyper-low enrolment at others. During the moratorium period, boards cannot initiate a Pupil Accommodation Review process except for a strictly defined emergency reason like fire or disaster. The PAR progress is used to not only look at school closures but boundary realignments to realign enrolment areas to balance school populations.

Provincial announcements for new schools since 2017 have been based on reviews completed before June 2017 when the moratorium issued by then Education Minister Mitzie Hunter during the Kathleen Wynne administration. That moratorium was issued after more than 600 schools across the province in 2016-17 were considered for closure, including 29 at the Upper Canada District School Board.

The OPBSA call to end the moratorium has the support in principle of UCDSB board chair John McAllister. That support does not mean he sees any PAR processes occurring at the UCDSB.

“I cannot speak on behalf of other boards but I do know many find themselves in a difficult situation,” McAllister told The Leader saying that some schools in other boards are over capacity while others sit underpopulated.

“Of course, this is due to changing demographics, rapid growth areas, shifting patterns,” he continued. “School boards have a duty to manage the resources provided to them by the province and this moratorium prevents them from doing so. As a result, students suffer in many ways.”

McAllister explained that the UCDSB is not in that situation.

“As you know, difficult decisions were made at the appropriate time in 2017. That heavy lifting was timely and has been completed.”

In March 2017, the UCDSB voted to close eight schools and merge four others once expansions or new school sites were built. Late last year, one of the closures, Oxford-on-Rideau PS was removed from the closure list due to increased enrolment in North Grenville.

Asked if the moratorium is ultimately lifted by the provincial government did McAllister believe there is a need for the UCDSB to review schools or areas of the board? He responded, “Absolutely NOT.”

McAllister went on to say he would not support any request from UCDSB administration to start a PAR process.

“I should indicate that such a request would have to come to staff from the Board of Trustees and, as long as I am around, there will be no such discussions. At the present time, the course of the present direction for the UCDSB has been set by the Trustees in our Strategic Plan and in the Director’s Work Plan.”

All three UCSDB schools in South Dundas were part of the initial 2016-17 accommodation review process. The draft plan at the time was to split the Grade 7-12 student population of Seaway District High School between North Dundas and South Grenville, and merge Iroquois and Morrisburg public schools in the former Seaway DHS site. That plan was dropped in the board’s final plan. The Grade 7-12 section of Rothwell-Osnabruck School in Ingleside and Benson Public School in Cardinal were two of the schools in the region closed in 2017.

Since the school closure moratorium was put in place, many advocacy groups including the OPBSA and the Community Schools Alliance, have called for changes to the pupil accommodation review process. To date, no changes have been made to the PAR process by the provincial government. No response to the call by the OPBSA has been made by the Ministry of Education.

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