Hal­ton par­ents make cases for high schools

Pleas made to save Bate­man and its spe­cial-ed pro­grams

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - TIM WHITNELL

— 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

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