School closures hurting Ontario

Photo by Conner McTague

Parents in Durham Region are concerned about what the closure of small rural schools will mean for their children.

In December, the Durham District School Board decided to shut down Epsom Public School in Scugog after the current school year ends. Epsom has a maximum capacity of 75 students, but only 38 students currently attend. It lacks a gym, full library and special needs areas.

“When you consolidate them with another school then they would have more opportunities,” She says

Carey Trombino, the board’s accommodation co-ordinator and senior planner, sees the positive side of Epsom’s closure and consolidation.

“When you consolidate them with another school then they would have more opportunities,” she says.

The board has also approved the closure and consolidation of Beaverton Public School and Thorah Public School pending funds to build a new school on the Beaverton grounds.

The issue of closure is plaguing rural and small town Ontario. The Prince Edward and Trillium Lakelands District School Boards are also closing rural schools.

These latest closures come on the heels of the Liberal government working to eliminate its deficit by 2018. Now two-thirds of school funding is directly related to enrolment, according to the advocacy group People for Education. 

The more students, the more money. The fewer the students, the less money a board receives. Underfunding of schools affects both students and teachers as trustees must make difficult decisions to fit within the budget.

Susan MacKenzie of Sarnia is a co-founder of the Ontario Alliance Against School Closures, a group founded to fight the closures.

MacKenzie believes consolidations of schools makes sense if they’re half empty, but “when you’re looking at fragile neighbourhoods, that’s a different story.”

“IF THEY DON’T HAVE STABILITY AT HOME, THEIR ONLY STABILITY IS AT SCHOOL…YOU’RE TAKING THEM RIGHT OUT OF THEIR COMMUNITIES.”

“Fragile” neighbourhoods include low-income and higher poverty, where she says children are more likely to fall off the track.

“If they don’t have stability at home, their only stability is at school…you’re taking them right out of their communities,” she says.

She says school closures also impact a student as they have longer commutes to school and this can affect their future.

“Now you don’t have a part-time job because your commute takes an hour or two. Now you can’t save for the future, for college,” says Mackenzie.

The lack of opportunity for extracurricular activities for students who commute far to school can also hurt their development and even lead to future trouble, according to some research. A 2008 study from Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice in Boston shows playing sports decreased delinquency in young girls and after school community activities decreased delinquency in young boys, opportunities that can be taken away by school closures.

MacKenzie says the impact of the Liberal’s budget balancing is causing some of the great history of Ontario to be disposed of as schools consolidate or close.

MacKenzie points to a rural school in Ontario that was recently closed. The school had a 750 seat auditorium that was built in the 1920s because the then-students wanted it.

“It’s something you don’t see in schools anymore,” she says. “We have history that this government is disposing of—the architecture in some of these schools is mind-blowing and we should be doing everything we can to keep this history.”

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