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Prince Edward County council calls for suspension of school closures

Queen Elizabeth School

Queen Elizabeth in Picton is one of the schools that would be closed under the public school board’s plan. Photo: Google Street Views

By Megan Pounder [1] 

BELLEVILLE – Prince Edward County Council has voted unanimously to ask the Ontario government to pause its process for closing and consolidating schools. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, all councillors voted in favour of two resolutions put forward by Coun. Bill Roberts:

Council’s vote comes as Prince Edward County is facing the closure of six schools starting this June. In November [4], the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board [5] voted to begin the process of closing 11 schools across its region and consolidating nine others. Declining enrolment and the cost of upkeep for aging school buildings are two factors in the decision, according to the board. 

Roberts told QNet News Tuesday that with council’s support of his motions, the next step is to present the resolutions to the appropriate cabinet ministers, adding, “I’m hoping that Mayor (Robert) Quaff and I will be able to meet with a couple of those ministers early next week.

“Also, there are a number of organizations which represent municipalities in Ontario – one is the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus [6], the other is the Association of Municipalities of Ontario [7] – they have very impressive and significant advocacy initiatives at Queen’s Park in Toronto, and we will be sharing these resolutions with them and hopefully they will be advocating on our behalf for some appropriate changes and some positive outcomes.”

Until the school-closing process is reviewed, Roberts said, the schools in Prince Edward County should be left alone. More time is needed to answer all of the questions and concerns parents have, he said.

“In my opinion, the time frame is way too short, and there are too many questions left unanswered – such as busing and the physical accommodations, green space, program enhancement, etc. – for us to make a rushed decision for the spring or summer of this year.” 

The two public meetings scheduled by the school board on the closures, one in early February and one in April, are inadequate, he said. 

Mayor Quaiff said one of his concerns of consolidating schools is putting children of such drastic age differences together.

“The biggest thing as well is do you want junior kindergarten kids mixed in with up to Gr. 12 students and what effect does that have on education and social media and all that sort of thing?”   

The board’s closure and consolidation plans for the county are:

No changes are proposed for Athol-South Marysburgh [13] or Massassaga Rednersville [14] schools.

Roberts said one of his concerns is that the enrolment data the board is using is outdated.

“Enrolment rates go up and down, and one of my concerns is that the school board’s data is five years old,” he said.

“I can see, for example, in Sophiasburgh, that we have had a very significant influx of young families. And those young families have come to Prince Edward County and put down roots in rural areas where they thought they had a school for their children.”

Quaff said school closures also affect the population of the wards in Prince Edward County. 

“I’ve had experience when they closed the North Marysburgh school at Lake on the Mountain  – families just started moving out of North Marysburgh, and families certainly don’t move back in to that ward. They don’t want their children all the way from, let’s say Cressy, coming all the way into PECI. That’s why now it does have an impact on the wards and that’s another concern from the economic-socio aspect of things.”