On Tuesday, February 21, Steve Clark, MPP, rose in the Legislative Assembly to question Education Minister Mitzie Hunter on the recent announcement that schools in this riding were to be closed over the next two years. Here is their exchange, taken from the Official Records.
Oral Questions – School closures
Mr. Steve Clark: My question is also to the Minister of Education. The minister was in eastern Ontario last month visiting Upper Canada District School Board schools targeted for closure. She told local media she was confident the board’s accommodation review process would create better learning opportunities for students. I want to provide her with an update.
Last week, the final report recommended closing seven schools in Leeds–Grenville—12 overall. That’s one in four of the elementary schools that the board has in my riding. It’s a disaster for rural education in these communities. Does the minister actually believe that closing so many schools is creating better learning opportunities for students?
Hon. Mitzie Hunter: I want to thank the member opposite for this question. During the wintertime, I had an opportunity to travel across this province. I do that because it’s what I love to do the most, which is to visit schools, talk to students and talk to educators. I visited Glengarry, Ottawa, Cornwall, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, just to name a few.
I had a chance to see first-hand how investments in programming for students like specialist high-skills majors are allowing students to learn the skills that align with their unique learning styles and their interests. Every student in Ontario deserves to have access to the best education possible so that they can reach their full potential. That is why we support the local boards as they are making decisions to strengthen their programming for students, and that includes having meaningful input from communities.
Mr. Steve Clark: Back to the minister: Her answer was unbelievable. Ontario’s Minister of Education is sitting on the sidelines talking platitudes while the future of rural education is being totally dismantled. As I feared, the ridiculous process that she’s so confident in ignored alternatives brought forward by school communities in my riding. They’re actually proposing to close two schools in the two fastest-growing communities in Leeds–Grenville.
I called for a moratorium on school closures last fall to give us time to develop a provincial rural education strategy. You know, it’s hard to plan for the future of rural education when there’s no tomorrow for these schools.
Speaker, my question is simple: Will the minister act before it’s too late by stopping these closures and forming an all-party committee to set up solutions for keeping rural schools open?
Hon. Mitzie Hunter: Mr. Speaker, I want to stress to the member opposite that every student in this province deserves to have access to the best education possible so that they can achieve their full potential. Our students in rural areas are an integral part of that.
We understand that boards are moving forward. There are no easy solutions. With the pupil accommodation review process, boards are required to receive input from municipalities, from coterminous boards, from community members, from students, from parents and from their local organizations, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.
We cannot have a one-size-fits-all solution to this issue. It has to be a local decision, and that’s why we support the pupil accommodation review process and we support local boards in making that decision.
At the same time, we are providing the investments in our education system that are necessary to ensure that our students have the best possible investments in their education.
Mr. Steve Clark: It wasn’t much of a Family Day for parents from seven elementary schools in my riding. That’s because they didn’t spend the day having fun with their children. Instead, they worked on presentations to save their children’s schools from being closed by the Upper Canada District School Board. Unfortunately, that’s not new for them.
Parents have spent thousands of hours away from their families since the board’s accommodation review process began last fall. They’ve done incredible work developing ideas to keep our rural schools viable. But as I feared when this process began, they were ignored. Last week the board tabled recommendations that would devastate rural education in Leeds–Grenville.
If trustees approve this short-sighted plan next month, seven elementary schools in my riding will close. That’s one in four of the board’s elementary schools in Leeds–Grenville. That’s right, Speaker: one in four. Today, on behalf of these communities that stand to lose so much, I’m calling on the Minister of Education to put a stop to this. It’s time to get off the sidelines, Minister, and stop professing confidence in this ridiculous process.
She must act immediately and put a moratorium on school closures. We need a provincial strategy on the future of rural education, but we can’t plan for the future if this minister does nothing and allows trustees to close schools today.
For seven school communities in my riding, there is no tomorrow.


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