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Ontario pauses school closure reviews, but 124 schools still on chopping block

ALLISON JONES, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jun 29th, 2017

A hallway at Lakeside Academy school in the Montreal borough of Lachine is shown on Friday, April 1. 2016. A Quebec bill that would eliminate school board elections has the province's struggling anglophone schools worried it will threaten minority language education rights. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Ontario school boards will not be able to put any more schools up for closure as the government overhauls the process THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Ontario school boards will not be able to put any more schools up for closure as the government overhauls the process, though any schools currently on the chopping block will remain there.

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter announced Wednesday in Bridgenorth, near Peterborough, that Ontario will be changing the way school boards consider schools for potential closure, saying it’s intended to strengthen rural and northern education.

In the meantime, she said, school boards won’t be allowed to begin any new such reviews, except for those for the purpose of student safety or for joint use between school boards.

But the announcement doesn’t affect schools for which the process is already underway. An official said five schools are currently under consideration and 124 have already been recommended for closure – 40 of which are in rural communities.

The Progressive Conservatives have been pushing the government to bring in a moratorium on school closures, and said Wednesday’s announcement falls short.

“Today’s announcement does nothing for schools in cities throughout the province that remain on the chopping block, including schools that service students with special needs and schools that are operating at nearly 100 per cent capacity,” Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said in a statement.

“Rural and northern Ontario have been nothing but an afterthought to this government.”

NDP education critic Peggy Sattler said the announcement is “cold comfort” to communities already affected by school closures.

“Premier (Kathleen) Wynne doesn’t understand that closing schools hurts students, their families and our communities,” she said in a statement.

The provincial review of school closure processes will look at the impact on communities, student well-being, bringing in longer timelines, introducing more accommodation options and clearer roles for students, staff and elected officials.

In addition, Hunter announced a new, $20-million Rural and Northern Education Fund that will help to continue the operation of those schools, and provide those schools with better programming such as French immersion, arts education and guidance counselling.

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