TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Nov. 15, 2016) - A rapidly-growing group opposed to school closures in Ontario is taking its fight to Queen's Park on November 21. Since organizing less than one month ago, the Ontario Alliance Against School Closures has been gathering momentum, preparing to take its fight to Queen's Park. On November 21, cars and buses from all regions of the province will descend on the steps of the Ontario Legislature to demand a halt to school closures currently taking place across the province. In addition, supporters are calling for a rewrite of the Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline (PARG): the provincial guideline used by boards province-wide to steer school closure and consolidation plans.
"We have got to take this fight to Queen's Park," said Felicia Fahey, a group organizer from Sudbury. "Our voices are being silenced and the board doesn't care about what the kids have to deal with."
She stated that in the Rainbow District School Board, some students are facing daily return bus rides of over four hours.
"That is an unreasonable amount of stress to put on kids every day; because of their grueling bus schedule, these kids are prevented from having after-school jobs or taking part in extra-curricular sports or clubs, a pretty grim life for our young kids. Our school board is three times the size of Prince Edward Island and our kids are already dealing with long, hard days on the bus. We can't let this government continue to take the joy out of their young lives; it is time the government stopped trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Fahey said that some students face a bus ride to school that begins at 6:40 a.m. and an equally long return trip that gets students home after 6:00 p.m. She has seen the devastation of student depression and fears an increase in school drop-outs as their situation becomes increasingly difficult.
Fahey is organizing a bus from Sudbury for the rally at Queen's Park. She believes that the current funding model is particularly punitive in its application to rural Ontario schools and supports changes that consider the unique circumstances of rural Ontario.
At the eastern end of the province, Heather Petrie is organizing buses coming from Upper Canada School Board. She says that 29 schools there are currently under ARC reviews "This announcement of schools under consideration for closure caught us all by surprise," said Petrie. "It seems that is what our school board and the provincial government are counting on. They are considering closing or consolidating one third of all of our schools, yes, one third. We have seen these school closure plans pit community against community using the students as pawns."
Petrie says the response to attend the rally at Queen's Park has demonstrated that people in eastern Ontario care deeply about their schools and the kind of education their children can hope to get.
"Our buses will be leaving Williamstown and Cornwall around 3:00 in the morning to arrive at the Nov. 21 rally. We take this fight very seriously and will do what it takes to fight for the students of Ontario and their right to quality education. It seems that neither the government - nor our trustees are doing that job."
She also worries that the new PARG, revised last year, has sharply reduced community input in the review process and has led to dictatorial decisions.
Organizers claim that the provincial Liberal government is "tone deaf" to the needs of Ontario communities, particularly those outside the GTA - and that trustees seem powerless or unwilling to defend their communities. This distress over school closures was recently underscored when the well-known ice cream company Chapman's, actually offered to purchase the local school to ensure the town of Markdale, where it operates continues to thrive. (http://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/2016/11/04/chapmans-offers-to-save-beavercrest). Concerned citizens from the Markdale, Owen Sound and Paisley area are also taking a bus to the Queen's Park rally in a bid to save the only school in Markdale and in Paisley, which local citizens fear will lead to the economic and social death of their towns and villages.
The Ontario Alliance Against School Closures will be delivering a letter to the Minister of Education calling for a moratorium on school closures signed by 40 Save Our School groups across the province as well CUPE Ontario, OPSEU and other organizations in support of OAASC demands.