By Jenny Burr
On Monday, Jan. 30 the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) held a public meeting in Smiths Falls at the Smiths Falls and District Collegiate Institute — one in a series of many — to give parents, guardians and members of the public the opportunity to voice their opinions on proposed school closures, which were first announced in the fall.
Board trustees, parents, guardians and the public listened to impassioned reasons for keeping various schools open and suggestions for the board to consider before making any final decisions. “It’s been a long road and very emotional,” said Veronica Horsey, a concerned parent.
School boundaries and transportation were among the main concerns for parents and guardians because nobody wants a lengthy bus ride to and from school for their child. Revising school boundaries was suggested to ensure that students were on the road for shorter periods.
“It’s a 20 minute bus ride now,” said Doris Rankin, a parent of a child that goes to Pakenham Public School, which is one of the schools on the chopping block. “Sending my child to R. Tait Mackenzie in Almonte will mean over an hour long bus ride. Renfrew is closer for us than Almonte. Kids can walk to after school activities if they go to school in Pakenham.”
Handicapped accessibility and meeting the needs of those with special needs were also concerns. Parents wanted answers as to how their children with these needs and in dedicated programs will be accommodated if and when they are relocated to new schools.
And it wasn’t just parents at schools that are expected to close, delegates from schools that will be receiving these new students were voicing their concerns as well. Several pointed out that overcrowding a school means more portables, less gym time, less computer time and less library time, in addition to reconsidering school facilities like number of washrooms and size.
The closure of a school does come at a price. Closing a rural school ultimately could mean that a community will die. “Children shouldn’t have to leave their community,” said Betty Mears, another concerned guardian.
The final word as to which schools will be closing and when has been promised by the school board by March 23. However, those at the meeting pleaded that the board lengthen the closure deadlines, citing that a six-month warning isn’t enough time for families to prepare.
Unused, wasted space and the costs involved in maintaining schools with low enrollment were the main reasons given for recommending the closure of some schools. The category one schools that the UCDSB has slated for closure by the end of the 2016-2017 school year are as follows:
Benson Public School (Cardinal)
Char-Lan District High School (Williamstown)
Glen Tay Public School (Perth)
Longue Sault Public School (South Stormont)
North Elmsley Public School (Drummond/North Elmsley)
Oxford-on-Rideau Public School (Oxford-on-Rideau)
Pakenham Public School (Pakenham)
Plantagenet Public School (Plantagenet)
Rideau Centennial Elementary School (Portland)
Rothwell-Osnabruck School (only Grades 7-12 proposed for closure – Ingleside)
Seaway District High School (Iroquois)
Wolford Public School (Merrickville-Wolford)”
The meeting was live streamed and is available to view here: https://livestream.com/UCTV/smithsfalls