Andrea Horwath (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)

NDP Leader Blasts Rural School Closures

Ontario’s NDP leader believes school boards across the province need to consider more than just enrolment when it comes to rural school closures.

Before Harrow District High School closed in June 2016, Essex town council appealed to both the Greater Essex County District School Board and the Ministry of Education in a bid to keep it open. It argued the closure would cause damage the economy of the rural community and threaten its future by discouraging families from locating there.

At the same time, town councils across Windsor-Essex have asked for more input in discussions about school closures.

The public school board and the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board insist falling enrolment is behind decisions to close and consolidate schools. As enrolment falls, the boards receive less funding from the province making it more difficult to keep aging facilities viable.

However, Andrea Horwath argues enrolment can not be the be-all and end-all.

“This idea that it’s all about enrolment, I don’t think it really takes into consideration the unique situation that faces small town Ontario and the obligation we have to not take that cookie-cutter approach,” she says.

“When you talk about rural Ontario — on the one hand how important it is to support farm communities and agricultural families, you can’t do that by pulling the resources out of their towns,” says Horwath. “In order to keep rural Ontario vibrant, we have to make sure we’re providing schools for the kids.”

Horwath also raises the issue of busing to schools in nearby communities and suggests the result is a two-tier education system. She says, “the number of hours that kids are going to have to spend on buses — It really stunts their ability to participate in after-school activities.”