By Megan Pounder 
BELLEVILLE – Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith wants to help fight for rural schools.
On Tuesday, Smith, a member of the Conservative opposition at Queen’s Park, launched a petition page  on his website  calling on the Liberal government to stop the school closures that are happening around the province.
As of Wednesday morning, there were 565 signatures on the online petition. There are also paper versions available for people to sign, or to take and collect more signatures, at Smith’s constituency office at 81 Millennium Pkwy. in Bellleville.
“There are 600 schools that are potentially on the chopping block,” Smith told QNet News Tuesday.
“And there are an awful lot of small, rural municipalities that say they’re having their heart torn out as a result of losing their school.”
In Smith’s riding, 11 schools in three areas – Prince Edward County, Belleville and Centre Hastings – are threatened with closure by the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board. The first public meeting about possible school closings in Prince Edward County takes place Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute in Picton.
Smith’s petition cites changes the government made to the process by which school boards can close schools, known as “accommodation reviews.” The process “is being forced through on a shortened timeline and only after the government made regulatory changes that make it easier to close a small rural school,” it says.
Closing the schools will have a negative impact on the social lives of children who have to ride the bus longer and will be unable to participate in extracurricular activities, Smith told QNet.
It will also have a harmful effect on the small municipalities, he said.
“They’re not going to be able to attract new, young families to live in their communities if there’s no school there. If you’re a mom and dad and you’ve got a couple of kids in elementary school, chances are you’re going to be looking to buy a home in a community that has a school, that’s close to a hospital, that’s close to a lot of the other amenities that your children would potentially be using.
“By lifting the school out of the community and closing it down, it’s making it very difficult from an economic development perspective for municipalities to attract new families to those communities.”