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(Opinion) What School Closures Tell Us About Municipal Politics

Not going to lie, this topic hits me close to home.

Despite the fact that I recently graduated from my high school this June, and now attend University, I still find myself bewildered at the fact that the place I called home for 4 years will be gone before I’m done my undergraduate degree. The place where I questioned myself and grew as a person will be gone. The place where I met my closest friends. Gone. Everything and every memory I had in that building will cease to exist in less than 10 years and the worst part is that I am absolutely and completely powerless to do anything about it.

Unfortunately, I am not the only student in the province to be facing this dilemma. As of May 2017, 121 Ontario schools are slated to close, as reported by the Toronto Star and my high school is simply a statistic stuck in the mix. These schools vary from population and region. Some people blame the Program and Accommodation Review (PAR) policy introduced by Ontario’s Ministry of Education, arguing that it’s arbitrary and subjective to the views of those selected to take part in the committee. Others argue that it simply has to do with a declining school population and thus, it would be more efficient to shut down the institution. I’m not here to toss around the blame whether it be at students, or teachers or provincial politicians. Rather, I’m more focused on the role that municipal politicians play in these decisions, particularly School Board Trustees.

Students protest the closure of their high school in Burlington. (Credit: Nikki Wesley/TorStar News Service)

How engaged are you in municipal politics? If you’re over the age of 18, did you go out and vote for your counselor? Did you vote for your School board trustee? Did you, at the very least, vote for Mayor? Did your parents? Does anyone? I mean sure, young people are more engaged in federal politics than ever, and I am definitely in the mix. But with the glamour and allure that attracts us to both federal and provincial politics, young and old forget the role that municipal politics play in our lives. By the time municipal politics directly affects our lives, it’s often too late to make any changes.  This could not be more evident than when it comes to the issue of school closures.

One of the main reasons for school closures seems to be a decline in student population. This is the reason why my high school is shutting down and frankly, it makes a lot of sense. It’s expensive to keep open a school with only so many students and in addition to that small schools are not equipped with the best learning opportunities, such as a diverse range of classes or clubs. This is simple logic. However, what isn’t logical is the decisions made by those in power that institutionalize the population of a school.

Following the opening of a new school in my city, the School Board trustees made the decision to give the new high school 7 feeder schools, while my high school only got 1.5 feeder schools. This means that graduates from certain elementary schools had to attend one high school or the other and as you can see, the newer high school got more feeder schools and thus, more students. Based on this alone, it’s easy to tell that this policy would result in overcrowding in one school and a severe lack of population in the other. As a result, any competent politician would vote against this policy but evidently, that did not happen. This policy passed through and came into effect and now students are paying for the mistakes of politicians.

Nobody really pays attention to municipal politics until its too late to take action or make a significant difference. However, if we focused on municipal politics just as much as federal politics, we would be able to hold politicians such as school trustees accountable for their actions and decide for ourselves whether or not we trust a candidate to make the right decisions concerning our schools. Engagement in municipal affairs allows us to directly avoid the incompetence that results in drastic decisions such as school closures. After all, if a school board finds that they have no other choice than to uproot the lives of students by shutting down a school, they have failed to effectively to do their jobs.

Students deserve better. While municipal politics may not be as glamorous or as engaging as federal or provincial politics, that is true. However, the least we can do is hold our municipal representatives accountable and ensure that they are effectively doing their jobs. Municipal decisions hit too close to home and in the classroom. Literally.



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