BLAKE WOLFE The Standard
SCUGOG: Following a February decision by Durham District School Board trustees to close Cartwright High School in Blackstock, the school community has banded together again to urge the province to take a second look at the process and rationale behind the facility's looming closure.
A group of local residents recently called on the Ministry of Education to undertake an Administrative Review of the Accommodation Review Process for the small rural school.
An information packet sent to the ministry outlines numerous aspects of the review the community brought into question, including cost figures related to repairs and upgrades needed to make the school fully accessible, student enrolment numbers as well as the timing of the CHS Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) process and construction of a new wing at Port Perry High School, which several members of the Blackstock community have speculated was to absorb the influx of CHS students.
A series of public ARC meetings in 2012 became heated as CHS supporters and DDSB staff debated such items.
Scugog resident Therese Eccleston, one of the many CHS supporters that countered the figures and rationale provided by the DDSB, said that the process now moves to the board, who have 30 days to respond to the request.
The board's response will then be sent to the province, which will consider both sides' views before deciding whether to send the matter to a facilitator, who will determine whether the DDSB followed the proper process.
"We need to prove the DDSB didn't follow procedure (through the review)," said Ms. Eccleston. "We truly believe that it shouldn't have happened, but also that if the process had been followed properly, it could have had a different outcome."
In February, trustees voted 10-1 in favour of a staff recommendation to close the school this June and amalgamate the student body with Port Perry High School in September. Scugog trustee Carolyn Morton was the lone holdout, submitting a motion (later defeated) to defer the decision for one year to allow trustees time to consider other options for the school's future, such as an agriculture-based curriculum with e-learning options, as proposed by representatives from Scugog Council.
While she declined to comment on the specific arguments described within the appeal, Ms. Morton said that she understands the community's motivation in challenging the decision, which she said was preceded by an "uncomfortable" ARC process for all involved. In the meantime, the trustee added that work continues on a transitioning plan for CHS students who are slated to begin attendance at PPHS in September.
"I completely understand the community," said Ms. Morton. "This was such an emotional issue - the school is such an important factor within the Blackstock community. However, we have to respect the ultimate decision of the Ministry of Education."
DDSB Chair and Uxbridge/Brock trustee Joe Allin said that board staff are already crafting a response to the appeal, adding that in his opinion, many of the arguments made by the community against the board in the appeal "have already been raised in previous discussions." Mr. Allin explained that in five previous ARC processes throughout Durham, this will be the first in which a formal appeal has been launched regarding a school's closure.
"Board staff are already in the process of responding (to the community appeal) and their work will be reviewed and likely supported by the DDSB," said Mr. Allin, adding that he is unable to comment on any specific details in the board response. "Staff will be able to respond competently to the concerns raised in the appeal.... In our experience (with the ARC process for other schools), we've not had any group pursue the matter through a formal appeal. However, we respect the process, including the right to appeal, and we're confident that in the end, we'll get it right."
The community's report was also recently presented by Durham MPP John O'Toole to Education Minister Liz Sandals in Queen's Park, urging the minister to review the ARC process. At the very least, Mr. O'Toole has asked for a delay of one year in considering the school's fate, allowing for the exploration of the other options put forward by local residents.
"Some citizens are concerned that the Accommodation Review Committee was not using the best facts and figures about topics such as student outcomes, teacher allocations, the condition of the building and its systems, and enrolment projections," Mr. O'Toole said. "A review of the information available to the Accommodation Review Committee would ensure the school board hasn't made the wrong decision on Cartwright."
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