LONG SAULT, Ontario – The South Stormont community gathered on Tuesday evening to discuss their next steps after the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) narrowly voted in favour of closing the community’s only high school.
Teri-Lynn Beckstead, one of the driving forces behind the Save Rothwell-Osnabruck campaign outlined the situation for the crowd gathered at the South Stormont Community Centre.
“Even though we lost the vote to save R-O by the vote of one trustee, we would need three to flip to our side to get that vote overturned,” Beckstead explained in response to a question from the crowd. “Our best option now is to take this to the province..”
She explained now how they hoped to encourage the province to review the Pupil Accommodation Review process.
The aim is to gather a petition of signatures from at least 30 percent of the parents who have children at Rothwell-Osnabruck. That 30 percent threshold if met is the minimum requirement to have the Ministry of Education consider whether a review is warranted.
“We probably have at least that many here tonight,” she said. “I plan on taking this petition door-to-door. The more signatures we get, the harder it will be to ignore our request for a review.”
A member of the crowd asked that if the process is reviewed, if that will mean the decision is overturned. While the review from the Ministry cannot overturn any school board decision, it can make recommendations on changes it thinks should be made.
One reason that supporters of R-O feel like a review is necessary, is because they feel that the UCDSB trustees were working with incorrect information, and not taking the whole picture into account.
The Board of Trustees voted to close R-O because according to the staff report, the school was 65 percent empty with 235 empty spaces.
Beckstead explained how this information was incorrect, and that the truth was that R-O Secondary is 79.2 percent full with only 48 empty spaces.
“I’ve done the math over and over again,” said Beckstead. “But they (the school board) did not want to listen.”
She then explained the plan that the Save Rothwell-Osnabruck committee presented to the school board to fill those empty 48 seats to capacity. The Save R-O group wanted the school to have French Immersion reintroduced to encourage students from South Stormont’s other elementary school, Longue Sault Public School (which does have a French Immersion program) to go to the high school in their township to continue their education.
While Longue Sault Public was originally scheduled for closure in the school board’s initial draft report, it was ultimately spared in the final vote on March 23.
However, Beckstead explained that if R-O’s secondary school program is closed, it could threaten Longue Sault.
“Longue Sault Public was originally scheduled for closure,” she said. “When R-O Secondary is closed how do you think they are going to want to fill that suddenly vacant space.”
Beckstead told the crowd that the next time the closure and consolidation issue is visited by the UCDSB they could leave South Stormont with one school in just one of their communities.
Petitions to send to the Ministry of Education are available at the Foodland in Ingleside and at the South Stormont Township Hall in Long Sault. The petition’s organizers hope to have the petition sent off by the end of this coming weekend, Sunday, April 9.