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High school students rally against school closures

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High school students rally against school closures

IROQUOIS - In the wake of the Upper Canada District School Board's proposed closure of 16 schools within the region, students at Seaway District High School in Iroquois took to their feet Tuesday morning, demonstrating their opposition to the proposed closure of their school through an organized walk out.

"This was a way to show the school board that they don't have full control over us, and that we have the free will to leave if we want to. A large disruption such as a walk out has to be reported to the higher ups, so we knew we'd be noticed. We just hoped that we could get as many people as possible to slow down and take a look at our signs or ask what we were doing, because word gets around. It spreads our message further. We're trying to stir up a commotion, because that's how you get people to notice you," said Alyssa Grant, a Grade 11 student a Seaway District High School involved in planning the walk out.

Students, parents, and community members alike have come together in a strong effort to halt the closure of the school, which is home to over 400 local students. The formation of 'Save Our Seaway' by local people concerned about the effects of the closure on students, families, and the community as a whole has quickly gained attention from surrounding communities and media outlets, with the group's Facebook page already reaching over 1,000 members. The group is the latest to officially join forces with the Ontario Alliance Against School Closures, a provincial lobby group that sent a letter to Education Minister Mitzie Hunter last week, demanding the government impose an immediate moratorium on school closures and cease the activities of Pupil Accommodation Review Committees. The group plans to hold a press conference at Queen's Park on November 21.

The UCDSB proposal would see the students currently enrolled at Seaway dispersed between North Dundas District High School and South Grenville District High School, forcing some students to spend as long as three hours a day on a school bus, being transported as far as 45km away. On their website, the Save Our Seaway group points to statistics claiming that bus rides longer than one hour are linked to a decline in student performance and health.

"My kids are pretty even-keeled kids, but I see the effect this is having on them; it's stressing them out. This could change everything for them. My 15-year-old, for example, would likely be separated from the majority of her friends if the proposal goes through, as the boundaries would have them going to North Dundas while she heads to South Grenville. She'd be starting Grade 11 in a whole new community, a whole new school, without the friends she has grown up with," said Save Our Seaway member and local parent Joyce Latulippe, who has four children enrolled in UCDSB schools.

"This is about every family in South Dundas. It's about the well being of students, and of the community as a whole. Our school is the heart of South Dundas. The amount of support this community gives to Seaway is unheard of. Seaway awarded $46,000 in grants and bursaries last year, far surpassing larger schools in the area. Local businesses and community members are a huge part of that. Most local businesses employ at least one high school student. With the proposed transportation schedule, this would hurt both the students and the businesses, basically making the kids unable to maintain their current jobs and schedules. Taking over 400 students out of the community would be a devastating blow to local restaurants and stores as well, who depend on their lunchtime rush from the school. This goes way beyond the closure of one high school, it would cause permanent damage to the whole community," said Latulippe. The group also argues that the closing of the schools would effectively turn away young families from the area, as well as medical and social services.

November 17 will be the first Pupil Accommodation Review meeting open to community input and comments on the proposal. The meeting will be held at Seaway District High School. Those wishing to speak at the meeting must give written notification to the board via email by 4:00 p.m. on November 12.

Only those presentations approved by the board will be allowed to have the floor. Requests must be submitted to Tim Mills, Chair of ARC 2A and 2B, at tim.mills@ucdsb.on.ca.

With decision day slotted for March 23, 2017, Save Our Seaway is urging people to get involved immediately. Signs supporting the cause can be purchased for $8 each. Concerned local citizens can respond to the UCSDB survey, located on their website. A rally will be held at Seaway on Friday, November 4, beginning at 5:30 p.m. For more information on how you can get involved, visit www.saveseaway.ca.

"People need to come to the rallies, come to the meetings in a show of community support; we all have to work together to save our school," concluded Latulippe.

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