Categories: Community engagementSchools

Float-gate: our students lead the way in school closure debate, refusing to be silenced.

I’m proud of our students for getting involved and making their voices heard on the potential closure of their high school.

Any time there’s a proposal to close a school, things are bound to get a bit bumpy.

Witness the uproar over Burlington Central High School (BCHS) students holding “Save Central High School” signs as part of their school float in the Santa Claus Parade. Enter “Float-gate.”  The Burlington Post ran an article raising concerns (as well as support) for the students’ actions, and followed that up with an editorial criticizing the students.

The mayor pledged to review the city’s policies. The students were accused of “politicizing” the event – nevermind that elected officials ride in it every year – rather than praised for raising awareness about what’s happening in our own community and how they feel about it.

The majority of residents I heard from supported the students, as did I. As one resident summed it up: It’s okay to commercialize the parade with businesses, but not a student group advocating for their community. Huh?

Witness also the (lesser) uproar over my appointment on the Program & Accommodation Review Committee (PARC) studying the proposed school closures. I took heat from some of my colleagues and online commenters for accepting the Parent Council’s nomination as one of two parent representative for BCHS, where my son attends. Keep politics out of it, was the theme, including from the mayor, who believes elected officials should stay out of this and chose the city manager as the municipal representative on the PARC.

Our city manager, James Ridge, will be terrific and I look forward to working with him. But the mayor missed an opportunity to sit on the committee himself and represent the entire community. I met with the mayor in advance to encourage him to be on the committee, and also spoke about this publicly during the council vote, so reading it here won’t be a surprise.

Why raise these two incidents? First, there seems to be an aversion to anything labelled “political” – which is a terrible way to treat our democracy.

Everything about the school closure process is already political. Elected trustees will make the final decision on any school closures, based on policies set by an elected provincial government. Governments advocate to different levels all the time. Several Ontario city councils are taking tangible action to save their schools. More on that in a future post. Earlier this year, a fellow councillor and myself both delegated at a meeting of Catholic trustees considering elementary school closures in Burlington. Happily, trustees voted not to close any schools.  All of this is democracy in action. Call it politics if you will, but people fought and died for the rights we enjoy to elect and expect our representatives to listen to us, and advocate for us.

Second, notice the criticism isn’t about the issue, the proposal to close schools, but rather about the manner in which people choose to be involved in that issue. This, too, is an attack on democracy. Every time someone is criticized for speaking up or getting involved, it creates a chilling effect on others doing likewise.  Safer to keep your head down, and stay out of the issues. You won’t draw fire.

But you also won’t achieve much for your community. This is not a time for elected officials, our young people, or anyone to sit on the sidelines. We all must step up, get involved, and work for the best outcome for our students and our entire community.

Yes, it may get a bit bumpy. So it should. Schools are the heart of communities. We should care passionately about what happens in our schools, and to our schools. With passion, comes differing perspectives. Let’s welcome the discussion.

Thank goodness our students are bold and bright and won’t be silenced. They showed courage in going public with their views and doing what they can to raise awareness to save their school. We should be celebrating these students, and encouraging all our young citizens to follow suit. These kids are embracing and acting on the privileges that come with living in a democracy. You make our community proud!

My Take: The final recommendation and decision by the trustees could be very different from the initial recommendation to close Central, close Pearson HS and make other program and boundary changes. It could be your school proposed to close instead.

Here are several ways you can get involved and make your views known.

  1. Provide feedback to your parent representatives on the PARC. The Central HS reps, Ian Farwell and I, can be reached at centralparc@hdsb.ca. A complete list of parent representatives by school is available here, along with meeting dates for the PARC. The meetings are open to the public to observe. The role of the PARC is to collect feedback from the community and generate options for the school board’s consideration, which may be different from Option 19.
  2. Review the material in support of Option 19, which recommends closing Central HS, closing Pearson HS, setting up portables at Aldershot and moving French Immersion from Dr. Frank J. Hayden Secondary School to Robert Bateman High School. Does the evidence support this option? Does the evidence point to other options that are better for kids and communities? Material includes the Long Term Accommodation Plan with projected enrolments, School Information Profiles, Frequently Asked Questions, director’s report to trustees, and much more. It can all be found on the HDSB site beginning here: Program and Accommodation Review.
  3. Join the conversation in your community. Central HS and Pearson HS have community groups advocating keeping those schools open: #Central Strong; Save Lester B Pearson. The Aldershot HS PARC members have started a Facebook page: AldershotPARC
  4. Attend the public meetings, and delegate to trustees. Meetings are Dec. 8, 2016 (review post-meeting materials online); Feb. 28, March 2. Details: Make Your Voice Heard Public delegation evening to the trustees is April 18. A final decision will be made by the Trustees May 17.

I want to hear from you, no matter what your view is on the current proposed school closures or other options that may emerge. Leave a comment below or contact me by email at centralparc@hdsb.ca, privately at mariannemeedward@bell.net or at home: 905.335.1899. I encourage you to get involved.

Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made. As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington. The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful. Got an idea or comment you want to share privately? Please, get in touch:

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