I wrote this letter to the Ontario Minister of Education today:
Dear Minister Hunter,
I am writing in response to recent statements you have made about school boards consulting with municipalities in their decisions to close local schools. These statements have particular relevance to us here in eastern Ontario, as many rural schools are slated to be closed. In addition, the Ottawa District School Board has recently decided to close Rideau High School and to move the boundaries for French Immersion high school students. All students in the areas of Overbrook and Vanier are now expected to take the bus to a suburban school. I have written in more detail on this matter in a recent blog post. https://bigorangebike.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/screaming-bloody-murder-about-the-ottawa-carleton-district-school-board/
I am writing to ask you to reverse the decision made by the OCDSB. The board did not heed any of the input made by the local community and as far as I can tell has made no formal effort to consult with the City of Ottawa. Its actions, however, will hollow out a central neighbourhood, put an at-risk population at further risk, and makes a mockery of all efforts to raise our children in a healthy and environmentally responsible manner.
I don’t know how familiar you are with Ottawa, but Overbrook and Vanier are very close to downtown. Most of the children affected by this decision live within five kilometres of Parliament Hill. The Peace Tower is visible from many parts of the area. I am staggered that it seems that Ontario is now so poor that it cannot afford to send children living centrally, in the capital of Canada, to a walkable, bikeable school. Of course I know that Ontario is not that poor, but the OCDSB is making a short-sighted decision and the children are suffering for it.
I have followed, and participated in, the fight for Rideau HS and access to Lisgar CI, and I have seen no evidence that the school board consulted with the municipality. All the local community associations are against this decision; the previous police chief of Ottawa, Vern White, spoke out against it; the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre, which is on the front lines helping the needy in our neighbourhood is against it; the Wabano Centre, serving our local indigenous population is against it; scores of parents are against it. At the meeting in which the final vote was cost, a delegation of refugee parents came, with an Arabic translator, to tell the board that Rideau High School provided schooling for their teenagers, a preschool for their little ones, and language classes for them. The chair of the board welcomed them to Canada and then presided over a decision that places those services in three different places, making them much more inaccessible.
The local councillors of Rideau-Rockcliffe and Rideau-Vanier wards have been trying in the last years to make our neighbourhoods more vibrant and adapted to active transportation. Consultations have begun on making two local main streets into “complete streets” so that the biking, walking and shopping experience is better suited to the needs of the local population. Indeed, those streets lead directly to Rideau High School and would have made the walk or bike ride there that much more appealing. Our area has the third-lowest car ownership rate in the city, and the third-highest population density (figures taken from the 2011 Origin-Destination Survey: http://www.ncr-trans-rcn.ca/surveys/o-d-survey/o-d-survey-2011/); sending its teenagers to a high school that is easily accessible by car and difficult to access by public transit or bicycle does not seem to be an obvious decision.
The problems I have outlined in my discussion of our local situation are part of a larger issue. In my view, there needs to be much greater coordination between the ministries of health, environment and education to ensure that the children of Ontario grow up in a healthy and safe manner. So many preventive measures can be taken with and for the children when they are young: walking and biking to school improves mental and physical health, resulting in reduced risk of depression, diabetes and cardiac disease; ensures that future adults are not wedded to the car; reduces greenhouse gas emissions from traffic; reduces traffic noise and pollution. There needs to be better coordination on the ground, involving local councillors, Public Health and initiatives from the Ministry of the Environment.
I do most fervently hope that you will intervene to help the children of Overbrook and Vanier.
cc. Glen R. Murray, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change
Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care