by Jen Monk
I remember that fateful evening, seven months ago, all too well. To this day, it replays in my mind like a recurring nightmare from which I’m constantly trying to wake. I was scrolling through the news and stumbled upon a statement made by the Upper Canada District School Board. My daughter’s school was up for potential closure. My husband and I had heard rumblings of this for some time now, as the enrolment numbers were clearly dwindling year after year. Nevertheless, we chose this school for our four-year-old daughter because it outshone the rest. By landslides. It was a chance we were going to take, because we knew, almost instantly after walking through her soon-to-be classroom doors, this was her home. In only a few short weeks, Oxford-on-Rideau Public School became our home.
We moved from the city to Oxford Mills to raise our two children in a comfortable, safe, rural environment. After purchasing our home – walking distance from the school – we were thrilled to be planting our roots in a neighbourhood and school much like the one I grew up in 20 years ago. Oxford-on-Rideau Public School represented everything we wanted for our children. The quaint, welcoming elementary school was truly a hidden gem, with plentiful outdoors time, gym time every day, fitness and yoga practices, and one-on-one interaction with a teacher every step of the way.
The months following this announcement from the UCDSB were nothing short of exhausting and trying in every single aspect. A small group of strong-willed, eager and passionate parents formed an SOS group and we took it upon ourselves to save this school from closure. Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? We certainly didn’t think so. After countless hours mulling over 100-page reports, we found glaring errors in population, statistical information and, not-to-mention, a completely flawed process set in place for us to follow if we wanted any chance at all. Our arguments were so strong, so precise and detailed. There wasn’t anything the Trustees or School Board staff could throw at us that we couldn’t answer with confidence. We believed that, if we didn’t win, the process was flawed and we had been beaten long before we started.
This time-consuming, mind-consuming obstacle course we were ultimately pawns in, kept me away from my children on a regular basis. I missed dinners; I missed bedtimes. We are all parents. We are stay-at-home moms, we are full-time working moms. We are fathers who have to drive into the city and back every day for work. We are all trying to be the best we can for our children, and the fact the UCDSB left this great feat in our ill- equipped, busy hands, left me bitter and resentful of the fact we were even here to begin with.
The one thing holding me together was that we had a solid case. We had more than a solid case. We had a winning one. Presentation after presentation, month after month, we all bared our souls and swallowed our fear to stand in front of School Board staff, superintendents, other schools in the same position and crowds of over 100 people and tell them why we, the parents of children at Oxford-on-Rideau Public School, not only deserved to be heard, but that we are owed this. We had done our homework. We gained the support of the provincial government and the North Grenville Municipality. We were a David-like alliance about to take on Goliath. We were a force to be reckoned with. Hell hath no fury like parents standing up for their children.
We needed six votes to win. We got five. We lost by a single vote. While our trustee fought hard for us, that single vote will haunt me for a very long time. This entire process will haunt me, because deep down I realize, while I personally made a difference in my home, standing up to a so-called democracy, fighting for my babies and my beliefs, their mind had, unfortunately, been made up.
We were placed on the closing list “pending spaces available at South Branch Elementary School” for 2018. They are ultimately forcing us out the door to attend a school that we simply have not chosen to educate our children in. While I personally don’t have anything against the feeder school, I do, in fact, have a strong concern with my children learning in portables in oversized classes.
The new Kemptville Public School is opening its doors in September, over capacity, yet we were not spared. North Grenville District High School is so over capacity that it is currently occupying classrooms at South Branch Elementary, yet we were not spared. There is no room for our children. Anywhere. The decision seemed simple.
I want to make perfectly clear that our small but mighty school will thrive. Regardless of what you see and hear, it is open, and will remain open for the foreseeable future. This outcome, if possible, sparked a bigger fire in us all to fight even harder. Our team is currently working on bringing a robotics program to the school that will enhance its position as an incredible centre for innovative and groundbreaking teaching ideology.
While I have faith in the public school system, it is jaded following this entire process. While I believe the vastly growing village of North Grenville is home to many outstanding schools, all of which my children would undoubtedly thrive in, there are none like Oxford-on-Rideau Public School. Oxford-on-Rideau Public School will always have my whole heart.
We were just told that Oxford-on-Rideau is in the planning stages of a brand new roof this summer. That doesn’t sound like a school that is closing to me. After all, a new roof is surely less expensive than adding ten portables at South Branch Elementary?