by Deron Johnston
With hundreds of people looking on this past Thursday night, the Upper Canada District School Board voted to close twelve schools in total, with seven of those schools in Leeds-Grenville, including both Oxford-on-Rideau in Oxford Mills and Wolford Public School in Merrickville- Wolford. Trustees voted 8 to 3 in favour of accepting the final staff report (and the school closures recommended in the report) at the meeting that took place in the gymnasium of North Grenville District High School.
Many municipalities opposed these closures with letters of support, delegations at meetings, and even an offer of free land from the Township of Augusta to keep Maynard Public School from closing. Other prominent organizations spoke up, including the Lanark, Leeds and Grenville Health Unit and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. Both organizations warned about the adverse effects of closing rural schools, including the damaging effect this would have on rural communities as a whole.
Concerns expressed by parents throughout this process were often repeated. Concerns such as the extended time spent on buses, less gym time available for being active, larger classes meaning less attention for individual students who need it, and the negative impact that this type of change could have on the lives of young children. Additionally, the loss of community hubs (schools are often used by local community organizations), the damage to rural economical development (loss of jobs, loss of tax revenue, loss of money being spent at local businesses etc.), and the negative impact on the future of rural municipalities by making them a less attractive option for people to move to, were also mentioned.
There was an attempt made to have Oxford-on-Rideau removed from the closure list at the last minute, but that motion was defeated. It is important to note that the closure is on the condition that space is available at the South Branch Elementary School. However, South Branch is already the site of a large presence of students from North Grenville District High School, who currently go there for classes, as reported in a previous edition of the North Grenville Times. If Oxford-on-Rideau students get moved to South Branch, where will the high school students go? Will they be sent to the old Kemptville Public School as soon as the new KPS opens on County Road 44?
Parents of Oxford-on-Rideau students don’t plan on giving up so easily. Some of them intend to push forward with the tech learning centre proposal that they presented to the Board. They want to work with the Board and other stakeholders to revitalize the school through this additional curriculum. They also want to explore French Immersion and daycare options for the school. It appears that Wolford Public School students will now be sent to Duncan J. Schoular Public School in Smiths Falls after their school’s June 2018 closing.
If it was truly just a matter of funding and having too many empty spaces, then the Board could have reached out to stakeholders like municipalities, community organizations and the private sector to help them find ways to help keep these schools open. But seeing that this never happened, it’s a clear indication that there must be some other motivation driving this. Or, the alternative is that this decision was made a long time ago, and the whole
Accommodation Review Committee process was just a ruse to make people think that they actually had some input, when it’s now clear that they didn’t and the Board had no real intention of listening. North Grenville residents are no strangers to the concept that public meetings seem to have no effect on decisions that often appear to have already been made.