‘Ottawa’ Parents Pepper School Board Staff with Questions About School Closures
One of the things Caroline Robbins loves about Bells Corners Public School is that it’s a five-minute walk from her home.
The school also offers excellent programs for children with special-education needs like her third-grader son William, who has ADHD, says Robbins.
She was among about 250 parents at an information meeting Thursday night about a proposal to close seven public schools in the city’s west end and make programming changes at many others.
Bells Corners PS, for instance, would remain open, but become French-immersion only.
William would be bused to Lakeview PS, which would offer the English program that he attends, said his mom. She had to take a bus to school as a child and doesn’t want her son to do the same.
Parents upset about the proposals peppered staff with questions.
Four of the schools targeted for closure — Regina, Leslie Park, Grant and Century — are small, English elementary schools with dwindling enrolment. The other three — Greenbank, J.H. Putman and D.A. Moodie — are middle schools, a grade configuration the board has decided to eliminate so students have fewer transitions.
Parents at the meeting pleaded to keep their neighbourhood schools open. Several said they chose their homes because they were close to schools.
The president of the Leslie Park Community Association said closing the school there would eliminate a community hub and make it harder for people in the neighbourhood to get to know each other because children would be bused out of the neighbourhood.
Other parents warned that new housing developments planned in Leslie Park will bring more children to the neighbourhood.
The study of west-end schools is part of a larger five-year plan to close schools and adjust programming across the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Staff have warned that the board can’t afford to keep open half-empty schools.
The problem is a mismatch between where schools are located and where they are needed. In some suburban areas, schoolyards are crammed with portables. In Ottawa’s west end, enrolment has been declining at some schools because of demographic changes and parental preference for French immersion.
There are an extra 3,836 pupil spaces among schools in the west end, staff said at the meeting. The proposed changes would cut 2,074 spaces, bringing the overall utilization rate to 85 per cent.
The plan would reduce the number of English-only elementary schools and increase the number of French-immersion schools.
Several high schools would expand to include Grades 7 to 12 because middle schools would close.
A teacher at J.H. Putman said she didn’t understand why the board wants to close middle schools, which she called an important transition time “between those adorable (elementary) children you put on the bus and those high school kids you lose your mind over.”
James O’Grady, president of the Trend Arlington Community Association, warned that 12- and 13-year-olds aren’t mature enough for high school, and the board should at least ensure secondary schools are renovated to keep intermediate and older children separate.