The Honourable Minister of Education, Mitzie Hunter,
Ministry of Education, 22nd Floor Mowat Block,
900 Bay Street, Toronto Ontario, M7A 1L2
Re: The Impact of the Revised Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline (PARG) on Communities
We are writing to express our deep disappointment with the accelerated school closures sweeping the province and to express our concerns with the revised Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline (PARG),a process which, in practice, has been undemocratic and insensitive to both the health of our communities and the needs of our students.
The disaster on the educational landscape of Ontario is the result of hasty and ill-conceived school closure decisions now occurring province-wide. These fast-tracked school closures leave no room for thoughtful and wise consideration of the social and economic effects of closing the only “community hub” in a rural or fragile neighbourhood setting. There is no consideration of the health of the child who now may be forced to spend as much as four to five hours a day riding a bus, no consideration of severely reduced extra-curricular sports and clubs available when schools disappear, and no consideration of the history or heritage that a school represents and what it means to its community. In many towns and cities, schools with important historic meaning such as KCVI in Kingston, Canada’s oldest publicly-funded high school, is slated for closure, as is BCCI in Barrie, SCITS in Sarnia, BCHS in Burlington, and the OSCVI in Owen Sound. The majority of these are core downtown schools and some in fragile neighbourhoods which are devastated by destructive and permanent decisions that bypass community and local economic considerations.
The revised Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline document put in place by the Ministry in March 2015, has resulted in a process which has given the tools to boards of education across Ontario to manipulate the consultation process. A process which is intended to ensure early and ongoing consultation has, in fact, resulted in the erosion of dialogue with constituents and local governments. Prior to the March 2015 changes to the Accommodation Review Guideline, school boards were required to prove that their decisions showed: i) value to the student, ii) value to the board, iii) value to the community and iv) value to the local economy.
Since then, however, the last two “values” have been quietly removed from the guideline. The effect has been to strip meaningful consultation from the process and to accelerate school closings without the courtesy of engaging with the people whom it directly affects -parents, students, local governments and local businesses. Ontarians have lost the democratic right of citizens to have a voice in the decisions that affect the education of their children, the survival of their schools and the health of their communities.
With this disastrous revised PARG, the Ontario Ministry of Education has created a mechanism which enables boards across Ontario to fast-track and escalate school closures. The new PARG has slammed the door in the faces of the stakeholders who no longer have a voice at the table. Our communities are centres in which schools play a vital and often pivotal role. Removing schools, without determining the “value” to the community has created the kind of “hollowing out” that occurred 30-40 years ago as factories disappeared across our towns and cities. We cannot continue to lose major social and economic contributors in our communities without careful deliberation. The current government is doing damage beyond repair.
We, the undersigned groups and organizations, represent citizens across Ontario who believe that the revised PARG is deeply flawed. We call attention to the catastrophic failure of a policy which allows boards to manipulate weak and poorly defined consultation requirements. In every case, we have been assured that our boards are in compliance with government policy. It is clear, therefore, the guideline itself is the problem. We ask that you, Ms. Hunter, recognize the failings of the revised PARG in its effective elimination of any meaningful, public involvement, and we ask that changes be made immediately to improve the democratic engagement of our communities in decisions that so seriously affect them.
We believe that the revised PARG process has created extreme inequities and hardships and request that it be subject to a substantive review by an all-party committee in the Ontario Legislature and that, until a new process is in place, we call on the Government of Ontario to immediately place a moratorium on school closures, suspend ARC reviews and commission a study to investigate and determine the effects of extensive school closures on the health of our children and our communities.
Judy Keeling for Save OSCVI, Owen Sound, Bluewater District School Board
Andrew Leggett, for Save BCCI, Barrie, Simcoe County District School Board
Susan MacKenzie, for Save SCITS Sarnia, Lambton-Kent District School Board
Brigitte Knapp, for Old Glen Ridge Community Association – St. Catharines, District School Board of Niagara
Robin Ridesic, for Citizens for Accountable and Responsible Education, Niagara-on-the-Lake, DSBN
Christine Sypnowich for Save KCVI, Kingston, Limestone District School Board
Doug Reycraft, Chair, Community Schools Alliance, Glencoe
Anita Gibson for Friends of Long Lake Public School, Sudbury, Rainbow District School Board
Felicia Fahey for Save Our Schools, Valley North, Sudbury, Rainbow District School Board
Kristen Turcotte for Save Char Lan Committee, Williamstown, Upper Canada District School Board
Dania Thurmann for Save BCHS, Burlington, Halton District School Board
Ontario Alliance Against School Closures
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