Effort to derail UCDSB school closures picks up speed
CARDINAL - Emotions were running high in the village of Cardinal Wednesday night as a group of community members sent the message that this is a fight far from over.
"We settled in a small town so our kids could go to a small-town school. If we wanted our children raised in a big-town school we would have lived there. What happened to our rights?"
Those were the words of one of the many area residents who spoke at the Save our School (S.O.S.) meeting hosted at Benson Elementary School in Cardinal. Close to 50 parents, community members and local politicians filled the seats in the facility's gymnasium to hear updates and offer support for the swelling movement to contest an Upper Canada School Board (UCDSB) initiative to close several local schools. That proposal would see Benson as one of a number of smaller community schools that would shut their doors and begin transporting existing students to schools located in more densely populated areas.
"My child is only seven years old. She can't advocate for herself," stated Donna Gladstone, one of the coordinators of the movement. "We are looking at a board plan that could see her leave Benson, go to South Edwardsburg (Johnstown) for a year and then move to Wellington (Prescott). It is unfair for any child to have to go to that many schools before they even get to grade eight. I am here to advocate for her," she concluded.
Also in attendance was Steve Clark, MPP for Leeds-Grenville, who has been lobbying the reigning provincial government to slow down the process on behalf of nearly 600 schools province wide that are facing the same fate as our local schools. Mr. Clarke left a sitting Queen's Park to attend a number of local school closure meetings.
Speaking to the crowd at Benson, the MPP reflected on being involved in similar processes earlier in his career and pointed out some glaring differences.
"The impact the schools have on their municipalities has somehow been removed from the current process," he observed. "The value this school holds to this community has to mean something. It's a hard fight but it's our kids and our communities...and I am willing to stand up with you against school closures," he concluded, receiving a rousing applause from the audience.
Edwardsburgh-Cardinal mayor Pat Sayeau expressed his concern for the impact closures would have. Sayeau voiced his apprehension, not only for the present community but also referencing the expected influx of young families linked to the Giant Tiger warehouse project (300 jobs) and the Medowlands sub-division slated for construction in the township.
"Their (UCDSB) enrollment projections need to be challenged," he said, struggling to keep his voice from breaking as he spoke. "The whole premise is flawed. What do they actually save in dollars and cents? We need to see those numbers. There is too much happening here to go down without a fight. It is a fight we are fighting!" he finished.
The group will be moving forward, going door-to-door, filing petitions and raising awareness and support for the cause. Their goal is to emphasize the lasting and vital role the school plays in the community.
"What does our community look like without a school?" Gladstone asked. "I went to this school (Benson). So did my husband, my sister, our kids...even my mother...why can't we give the school our parents gave to us back to our children? We need to make our children proud; let them know we advocated, we reached out...for them."