For some families, the month of March is about planning vacations and time off from school, but that’s not the case for the families of kids enrolled in about 30 schools under review by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.
The OCDSB is in its first part of a five-year review of schools in the city. In total, seven regions in Ottawa will be reviewed under a similar process. The review could end with the closing of a number of city public schools, which has some parents concerned.
Christine Tomson was housebound for four weeks at the start of the 2016 school year after major surgery when she found out about the review and proposal. She started hearing rumblings from other parents on Facebook.
“My son’s coming home from [Leslie Park] school saying he doesn’t want to go to Briargreen,” said Tomson, recalling her eight-year-old son Gavin’s anxiety at the idea of moving schools.
Thomson and other parents feel they have been left out of the crucial decision-making portion of the plan.
“We all feel like it’s a done deal,” said Thomson.
The first two reviews, which started in September 2016 and end when a decision by the Board of Trustees is reached in March 2017, focus on west-end and east-end schools. Recommended closures would take effect at the end of the current school year.
For context, most Ontario school boards receive funding from the Ministry of Education in the form of grants. These grants are distributed to schools based on the number of students enrolled.
And according to the Ministry, enrolment in Ontario has been on a steady decline for over a decade. In a report, the Ministry said between 2003 and 2014, the total number of students attending Ontario schools declined by over 150,000.
By the 2014-15 school year, 358 elementary and 205 secondary Ontario schools were operating at less than half capacity.
With such a lack of school-aged children, numerous boards throughout Ontario communities are forced to conduct reviews. Staff then presents the review, along with a proposal of how resources can be better used. The public is consulted, and eventually the Board of Trustees makes a decision.
Proposals can include restructuring of programs, grades, boundaries, and school relocations and closures.
The goal is to make sure all students have access to a range of courses and programs, specialized support, improved accessibility and building features, and sufficient enrolment to support and sustain the schools in the future.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Secondary Area Pupil Accommodation Review includes three schools: Rideau, Gloucester and Colonel By high schools.
Right now, Gloucester and Rideau are operating at less than half capacity. The recommendation presented to the board is to close Rideau and transfer the students to Gloucester, which would make the school 85-per-cent full.
And the Western Area Pupil Accommodation Review included 22 elementary schools and four secondary schools.
Proposed closures for the west include Leslie Park, Grant, Century, Regina Street and J.H. Putman for elementary schools. It also includes the closure of D. Aubrey Moodie and Greenbank middle schools.
Agincourt and Woodroffe would offer kindergarten to Grade 8, and Bell High School, Sir Robert Borden and Merivale High Schools would offer Grades 7 to 12, eliminating the need for the two secondary schools.
Trina Pearce knows some parents are nervous to have their younger kids going to school with high school-aged teenagers, but she sees the opportunity as an exciting one for her boys, aged 10 and 12.
Pearce’s boys wouldn’t be impacted by closures at their current school, but her 12-year-old was moving to Greenbank next year.
Now Pearce and her son are looking at Sir Robert Borden as the likely option, and instead of worrying about her son amongst high school pupils, she sees it as a way for teens in her community to show leadership.
“I see an opportunity for kids to be involved in more ways,” she said.
While Pearce said she doesn’t know if she’ll agree with everything the board has recommended, unlike Thomson, she feels she’s part of the decision-making.
“The school board has given us a process to express our opinions and concerns and I’m a part of that.”
On Feb. 13 and 15, final proposals will be presented to the board’s committee for the western and eastern reviews respectively. Trustees will make their final decision for the west on March 1, and the east on March 2.
For more information, visit ocsdb.ca.