Halton parents make cases for high schools
Pleas made to save Bateman and its special-ed programs
— Halton parents will have another chance to make their opinions on proposed school closures known at a public meeting Thursday night.
The session follows a similar meeting held Monday night, where people pleaded with the Halton District School Board to reconsider its plans to close Robert Bateman and Lester B. Pearson high schools.
Perhaps none was more emotional than that of Zoe Marshall, 14, who is scheduled to start Grade 9 at Robert Bateman High School this fall.
“I have autism. Please don’t make me move (high schools) after only two years. Change is hard for me and my friends with autism,” the teen imparted to trustees at the J.W. Singleton Education Centre on Guelph Line.
Following a lengthy review of Burlington’s public high schools — five of which are experiencing continued declining enrolment — education director Stuart Miller is proposing to close Pearson in June 2018 and Bateman the following year.
Zoe was accompanied by her mother, Carla Marshall, representing the Halton chapter of Autism Ontario.
The mom expressed concern that children with special needs, like her daughter’s, will have a difficult time if Bateman closes in two years and they have to move to a renovated Nelson High School.
“Our students need the right place to learn. Our students need open spaces. Robert Bateman is the only school in Burlington to accommodate students with autism. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Why move students who don’t do well with change?” said Marshall.
Burlington trustee Amy Collard asked Marshall if she has faith in the board’s transition plan, should Bateman pupils be transferred to Nelson.
“We’re afraid of losing the (student) integration that Bateman is known for. As Zoe said, it will probably take her all year to get used to a new school ... They have very unique learning styles. They do well in the right environment. To see that go (in a move) is heartbreaking,” Marshall replied.
The Marshalls were among 24 delegations to address trustees. Many were parents of children now attending, or who will soon attend, either Pearson or Bateman high schools. The chair of the Save Lester B. Pearson campaign told the board she believes faulty statistics and unfair arrangements have made the Headon Road school a target for closure.
“Since the building of (Dr. Frank J.) Hayden, our enrolment numbers have dropped considerably. The main reason being is that we currently have only have one and a half feeder schools while Hayden has seven, and a large portion of our catchment area is mainly industrial and commercial,” said Amy D’Souza, a mother of three young children.
“Despite the close proximity to Pearson, many students are being redirected to other schools and require driving or busing, which doesn’t make sense from a logical, geographical nor a financial perspective. This simply reinforces the need for balancing of feeder schools and redefining boundaries and not for the drastic measure of a school closure in Burlington.” Pearson has fewer than 400 students. Sharon Picken, a Bateman parent, said her two children — a daughter who graduated from Bateman and a son in Grade 12 — have benefitted from the school’s specialized programming. One became an early childhood educator and the other is in the food program, both with defined career goals. Bateman has nearly 400 special needs students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Lisa Bull, a parent of a special needs student at Bateman and also a member of the program accommodation review committee, described Miller’s accommodation review report as “dismissive.”
Ten of the evening’s delegations spoke in support of saving Bateman, while four delegates spoke in favour of keeping Pearson open. However, a significant number of speakers on Monday were from schools not currently slated for closure. Five defended Central High School, the city’s oldest secondary school, which had initially been considered along with Pearson for possible closure.
John Norris, executive director of the Hamilton District Autobody Repair Association, told trustees the automotive body repair program at Bateman is held in high regard by him and others with students excelling at national and international competitions.
He said his experience is when school boards close schools and say they will move specialized equipment, for programs like auto repair, “the promises made were rarely kept.”
It could cost as much as $30,000-$40,000 to move the auto spray booth out of Bateman, he said. Norris wondered what would happen to the expensive automotive equipment they helped provide to the school if it isn’t transferred. “We would ask for our equipment back,” he noted.
On May 17, trustees will receive the review report for information. A final vote is set for June 7.
Change is hard for me and my friends with autism. ZOE MARSHALL GRADE 9 STUDENT AT ROBERT BATEMAN