Oxford-on-Rideau Public School is still in business, despite a decision by the Upper Canada District School Board to include it on a list of schools to be closed. In March, 2017, the UCDSB made the decision that Oxford-on-Rideau was slated for closure as of September 2018, with the student body being consolidated with South Branch Elementary School. Since the closure was announced, a group of dedicated parents have been working hard to make their case to the School Board about why Oxford-on-Rideau should be kept open. Each year, the closure has been postponed, thanks in large part to the work of Trustee, Lisa Swan. Local MPP Steve Clark has also lobbied with the Board to keep the school open. When asked for an update by the Times, Lisa Swan provided the following statement:
“Sadly Oxford is still on the closure list but in January 2022, I was able to get another 1 year extension. When the closure was recommended in 2017 by the majority of the Board of Trustees, Trustees were assured the closure of Oxford would not result in the students being in portables at South Branch.”
The school stays open, for now, and enrolment is up, which is a very hopeful sign for the future. A student population of around 87 may not seem very much compared to more urban schools, perhaps, but it does represent an increase of 13 over last year, and the demand seems to be there to maintain a school in Oxford Mills for a growing community in and around the hamlet.
The main obstacle to further growth in enrolment seems to be the lack of a school bus system serving Oxford-on-Rideau. Those who had children in the school in the years before the decision to close it, will remember the many school buses lined up there every day, bringing children from a wide catchment area to and from classes. The lack of such a network reduces the attractiveness of the school for those who want to send their children there now. When asked about this issue, Trustee Lisa Swan described her attempts to reinstate the school buses.
“In regards to transportation, Chair McCallister and I have had discussions with Mayor Peckford on a way to continue to get numbers up at OOR. It has been noted over the years that many parents send their children to other Kemptville Schools as they require daycare, and there is a shortage of that in the Oxford catchment area. Unfortunately, the cost of running a bus from the main Kemptville daycares is prohibitive and there is no funding available to the Board for this.”
Another issue is finding arguments sufficiently strong enough to warrant reopening the decision to close Oxford-on-Rideau. Lisa has been working with Mayor Peckford and the Municipality of North Grenville to try to find the evidence that would convince the UCDSB to reverse that decision.
“I have also been working with the Municipality and the Mayor over the years trying to find something substantial that has changed to use to bring a Motion forward to remove Oxford from the list. The number of students at our local Public schools is slowly growing and I hope to have enough data from the start of the 2022 school year, which are released in October, to put forward a Motion to remove Oxford from the list. The Motion to close OOR was a joint Motion to close other schools as well, so the procedure to remove it is a bit of a grey area, but I was told last winter by legal Counsel that a public consultation would also be required on top of the new information.”
Although the current election for the UCDSB Board of Trustees could change the situation should Lisa Swan not be re-elected, one of the two challengers for the position, Heidi Piper-Ward, has informed the Times of her support for maintaining Oxford-on-Rideau as a community educational asset.
“I recognize the importance of using our education resources carefully and I know rural schools are often economically inefficient, but I think their value is more nuanced than being reduced to simple economics”, she told the Times. “Statistically we know that rural schools are an important factor in supporting the life of small communities across Ontario and their importance cannot be ignored. I am in support of keeping the school open and supporting the transportation needs required to do so.”
The parents and staff at Oxford-on-Rideau have worked hard to ensure the continuation of classes at the school, and it will be very important in that respect for more families to commit their support, and their children, to the life of a community institution that will celebrate sixty years of school life in 2024. When it opened, it replaced 12 area one-room schools and one child from each school was invited to take part in the sod-turning ceremony for Oxford-on-Rideau. Attendance at the school, as with every school in our common history, varied from year to year, but always returned to a level that required that a school in Oxford Mills be available. It is vital to continue planning for the future.