January 11, 2012 by realrenewal
In a stunning yet unsurprising failure of flexibility and foresight, public school trustees last night voted to strip yet two more Regina neighbourhoods of their schools. Before the vote, Haultain School Community Council chair Lara Quintin called on the board to make an exception to the 10-Year Plan’s rigid program model of 200 to 400 students. “It’s not irresponsible or inequitable to invest more in a community that has substantially less, a community with barriers to overcome and dangers to consider,” she said.
Unfortunately, this only lent fuel to trustee Barbara Young’s argument that certain Regina neighbourhoods and families fail their children – and therefore the school board must remove the children from their home environments and place them in new, bigger “learning families” of 60 to 70 students. She then explained the “learning families” will be grouped according to “challenge levels.” In less linguistically sophisticated circles, this is known as ‘separating the smarties from the dummies.’ We can only hope our experience will be different than in the U.S., where researchers observe that this approach is often accompanied by alarming levels of racial and class segregation within schools. Meanwhile, nothing was said about working with the real families and communities students already have.
“What is our primary mandate? In a word it’s education,” said trustee Angela Fraser, adding that the affected students can be educated elsewhere. Tim Stobbs voted against closing Dieppe School because of potential over-crowding at McLurg, but voted in favour of closing Haultain, saying that the board must stick to its program model of 200 to 400 students without exception. Trustees Carla Beck and Cindy Anderson both argued to keep the schools open. “Haultain is a school of necessity,” said Anderson, adding that she is worried about removing needed schools from needy neighbourhoods. She also noted that on average 92 per cent of Dieppe and Haultain students walk to school, a healthy practice that will be lost with the closures.
Carla Beck suggested it was time to halt the closures and take stock of the plan as a whole. “It seems to me we may have reached the end for the need for closures,” she said, citing rising birth rates and population growth. She argued the board has tools available to affect enrolment levels in individual schools, such as amending catchment areas and busing patterns. “We have options. We can work with communities to bolster enrolment,” she said.
Interestingly, Haultain’s K-8 enrolment was reported at 108 during the meeting, up from 104 in October. Combined with 17 pre-kindergarten students, by the time the vote was taken, the school was just 15 students short of the board’s 140 cut-off. One wonders if trustees were aware that if they did not move to close the school now, its continued growth would soon place it above the mark, making closure more difficult to defend.
In the end, trustees Fraser, Gagne, West and Young voted to close Dieppe. Stobbs, Beck and Anderson voted against closure. Fraser, Gagne, West, Young and Stobbs voted to close Haultain, while Beck and Anderson voted against.
Those who voted in favour of closure all stated they had genuinely listened to the affected communities – a statement as patronizing as it is false. Had they listened, the schools would not be closing.
Clearly it is time for some new trustees in this year’s board election. Although public service is a sacrifice, it’s one that concerned parents should consider making in light of continuing school closures.