‘Ottawa’ Closing Rideau High School Will ‘Destroy’ Vanier, Hurt Youngsters, Former Police Chief Says
Former Ottawa police chief Vernon White has joined the campaign to save Rideau High School, warning trustees that closing the school will hurt young people in Vanier.
“The community is already vulnerable,” White, who retired after five years as police chief in 2012, to accept a Senate appointment, said in a letter to trustees at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.
If the school closes, “I believe you will be removing these youth and their families’ hope of a better future,” wrote White. “If you remove Rideau High, I believe you are as well removing the connection youth have to their community through their school,” wrote White. “In essence I believe you will be destroying the community that supports the youth in this already challenging area of the city.”
The school board makes a final decision on the fate of Rideau High at a meeting March 7. Last month, in a 7-to-5 vote, trustees recommended the school close. Rideau supporters are making a final lobby effort, including busing people to Tuesday’s meeting.
Board staff say the school, which is at 43 per cent of capacity, can’t offer the variety of courses students deserve. The plan is to move the students to Gloucester High School, which is also less than half full.
Rideau has struggled with low enrolment for years, and narrowly escaped closure eight years ago. Part of the problem is that many students in the catchment area choose not to attend Rideau.
There’s disagreement on how best to serve the vulnerable teenagers at Rideau from low-income, refugee, immigrant, aboriginal, Inuit and Métis backgrounds.
Some trustees say a larger school offers more program choices to keep kids engaged. Trustee Sandra Schwartz says closing the school is emotionally wrenching, but she believes it will improve educational opportunities for everyone.
Others don’t buy the argument that bigger schools are better.
“Large schools are known to increase isolation and violence from my experience in living and working as a police officer in three provinces, three territories and 16 different communities across Canada over 32 years,” said White in his letter.
Trustee Shawn Menard, one of the leaders in the campaign to save the school, says it’s unlikely Rideau students will receive the same individualized attention at Gloucester.
More than a dozen people on both sides of the issue have submitted briefs and signed up to speak at Tuesday’s meeting, including several students from Gloucester High School. Katherine Plamondon, Gloucester’s Student Council president, says the Rideau students will be welcomed with open arms.