Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath sent the following letter to Joe De Matteis, parent of a student at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Elementary School, a Vaughan-area elementary school facing closure.
Feb. 27th, 2017
Joe De Matteis
Our Lady Peace Catholic Elementary School
As you know, for families in Maple Ontario, and throughout the Vaughan area, community schools are more than just bricks and mortar. They are parks and playgrounds—often the central hub of the community.
Our Lady Peace Elementary School is a premier example of what schools can offer a neighbourhood and the families that reside there. The school boasts over 96% utilization and a thriving French immersion program. Nearly all students attending the school are able to walk to and from class, and Our Lady Peace is the only Catholic school in the area. Despite the success of this institution and the dedication of parents, students and education workers, Our Lady Peace Elementary School is on the chopping block.
The current accommodation review process incentivizes school closures and places schools like Our Lady Peace at a disadvantage. For instance, emphasizing past and current enrolment figures does not allow boards to adequately plan for growth in their community. Major housing developments planned in Vaughan at Rutherford and Dufferin will increase the need for a school in the future. Closing Our Lady of Peace will create a shortage of Catholic school spaces at a time when the need for spaces may be increasing.
Moreover, in 2015, changes to the pupil accommodation review guidelines limited community input and informed decision making. The minimum timeline for the entire accommodation review process was cut from seven months with four public meetings to just five months with only two public meetings. A new loophole even allows for an optional shortened accommodation review process, with no committee and only one public meeting—this process will only take two months. Reducing the length of time of this important process limits the ability of community members to participate in decisions that will impact their neighbourhood for generations to come.
Accommodation reviews and school closures are occurring at a time when the province should be investing in our schools. Ontario families were enthusiastic when the government announced plans to utilize schools as community hubs but so far, this enthusiasm has become disappointment. The province should be enabling and incentivizing boards to easily utilize schools as community hubs rather than forcing their closure. The government must make it easier for the York Catholic District School Board to work collaboratively with the parents and education workers at Our Lady Peace Catholic Elementary School to allow for creative and innovative solutions to keep this school open.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to this school and the community it serves.