The Upper Canada District School Board’s [UCDSB] series of public meetings to discuss the possible closure of schools in the Board’s region has led to some serious discouragement among the parents who have been involved in preparing presentation for what the Board is calling the Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) public meetings, scheduled to be held this week in the Grenville County sector. The UCDSB originally described the ARC meetings as a way “to receive feedback on the draft recommendations for possible school closures and consolidations as presented in an Initial Staff Report received by the Board of Trustees in September”. There are 29 schools being considered for closure, ten of which are in Leeds-Grenville, and the Board will announce in March which 16 of those schools will be closed by the end of this school year. Another 13 will close at a later date, subject to provincial government funding decisions.
While Board Chair, Jeff McMillan was careful to insist that: “We want people to be aware that no final decisions have been made,” he said that the ARC meetings would help the Board to make the right decisions on closures in the new year. “The ARC’s will receive delegations from the community and share insights of the feedback received to date. Information received throughout the process will be included by the ARCs in a final report that will be prepared by UCDSB staff and presented to the Board of Trustees on February 15, 2017. Final Board decisions will take place on March 23, 2017″, according to a Board statement.
But, as parent groups organised to prepare presentations to the ARC meetings, they became increasingly upset at the way in which the process was structured, and this has led to some resignations by individuals who had become involved in their local ARC, thinking they would be able to make the presentation on behalf of their school. The Board informed them that, as members of ARC, they would not be allowed make presentations on behalf of their school. Other ARC members have become extremely angry at the shoddy preparation by the Board for these public consultations, as Board representatives did not seem sufficiently knowledgeable in dealing with questions raised by parent committees.
Christine Crate-Pavan, Parent Chair of Wolford for the ARC, resigned on November 10, noting that she was not the only ARC member to step down. “There is a huge wave across the board and others calling on all ARC members to protest this unfair process.” In her letter of resignation, sent to Susan Edwards, a Superintendent of Schools with the UCDSB, Christine protested against the failure of the Board to adequately address either the concerns regarding the ARC process, or the timely provision of information for parents.
“We are all tired of hearing ‘that’s a good question’, ‘we will look into it’, ‘let me ask someone else’, ‘we will try and find that information’, we need and are entitled to real answers…As you know, this is a time sensitive matter, but the board seems to want to delay everything out as much as they can for the parents fighting for their schools. You are asking us to make a sound decision but yet choose not to provide us with all the information and facts.”
Christine was not alone in expressing this judgement on the ARC process. Michelle Taylor, a member of the ARC group and parent of a child at Pineview Public School in Athens, also resigned last week, citing very similar complaints. She described it as “an undiplomatic and hostile process”, which forced “busy parents and community members to prepare professional presentations, complete with Powerpoint notes; forcing anyone wanting to speak to register with the school board several days in advance, with prepared presentation attached; limiting speakers to 8 per session; and picking and choosing who gets to speak”. Michelle’s conclusion was that “these sessions are an absolute farce”. She then called on all ARC members across the Province to resign.
Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark has asked that the ARC process be put on hold and issued an open letter to Board Chair, Jeff McMillan. “I urge you to remove the restriction limiting public delegations to eight and ensure all voices are heard. Frankly, on a matter as important as this one, more meetings in more locations with more time for delegations should always be the default position of any public organization.”
The North Grenville Municipal Council issued a letter of support for the parents at Oxford-on-Rideau Public School in Oxford Mills in their attempts to prevent the closure of that school.