Burlington councillor refutes conflict concerns
Marianne Meed Ward urges parents and students to learn the facts before judging
Re: OPINION: School closures raise conflict of interest concern, May 7, 2017
The potential closure of two high schools in Burlington is too important an issue facing our kids and our community to have coverage reduced to personal attack pieces in the op-ed pages. Emotions in our community are already running high, with neighbours pitted against each other in a process that needs improvement.
The criticisms against me personally are, in a word, baseless. They’re a distraction from the important issues we should be discussing as a community.
The commentary combines conjecture with assumption of motive and misrepresentation of the city of Burlington’s draft Council Code of Conduct, which doesn’t prevent volunteer activity and affirms that councillors “may be called upon” to assist community associations or groups in various ways, including events, fundraising and advice.
Our experience in Burlington has shown it only takes a few negative voices to turn a discussion nasty, which creates a chill on dialogue; why participate if you could be the next target? Our community needs participation from everyone; advocating for your school is part of that. When voices go silent, that diminishes us all.
There are important lessons for our kids here: stick to the issues and the facts; accept diversity of perspective, and be respectful of others when you disagree. As adults we can help by modelling the behaviour we want to see.
Let’s keep our focus where it should be: on the students who will be affected by any decision made on school closures.
While there have been opinion pieces in these pages, there’s been little in the way of news coverage of the situation in Burlington. Here’s an introduction to what residents should know to participate in the dialogue and provide informed feedback to decision-makers.
The Halton District School Board of Trustees voted to start a review of Burlington’s seven high schools last October to deal with two issues: enrolment and programming. The Director of Education’s initial report identified 1,800 empty pupil spaces with enrolment projected to continue to decline, resulting in impact on course offerings and the range of subjects students can take. One school is overcapacity.
A committee of 14 parents — two from each school — came together to review op- tions, suggest new ones, and bring forward input from residents. I served as one of two parent volunteers from my son’s school. Our meetings took place in public and the minutes are posted online.
The committee forwarded five options for the Director of Education to consider, including closing no schools, closing one school (two options) and closing two schools (two options).
The Director ’s final report to Trustees was released May 12. Below is a summary of his recommendations. I encourage everyone to read the report for yourself and draw your own conclusions:
• Robert Bateman High School closes in 2019 and students shifted to Nelson, MM Robinson and Burlington Central high schools. In addition to regular programming, two “composite” schools would be created — in the South at Nelson and in the North at MM Robinson, to offer a full range of programs supporting students with special needs to attend schools closer to their homes. A second site would be added for the Essential Program and the LEAP program. Facilities at Nelson and MM Robinson would be enhanced as needed for the Community Pathways Program (CPP) and technological education programs. Students in the CPP program would be “grandfathered” to move together to Nelson regardless of whether they live in the community.
• Lester B Pearson High School closes in 2018 and students shifted to MM Robinson.
• Burlington Central High School receives the International Baccalaureate program.
• Aldershot High School to be explored as a site for a magnet program or themed school, with details coming back to trustees in early 2018.
• French Immersion removed from Dr. Frank Hayden Secondary School to address overcapacity; students in Grade 10, 11, 12 grandfathered at Hayden till graduation.
The trustees will vote on these recommendations June 7, so there is still time for residents to provide input.
Does the recommendation resolve the two issues that started the review — low enrolment and opportunity to enhance program delivery and learning opportunities? Does the recommendation improve education for students for the long term? The community is divided on that point. These are difficult conversations to have, but so important for our entire city.
We don’t have to agree — but we should create an environment where diverse perspectives can be aired. We can make it more welcoming for everyone to participate — including our children — by sticking to the issues, reading source documents for ourselves, avoiding personal attacks and modelling respectful discussion.
Marianne Meed Ward served as a parent volunteer on the Program & Accommodation Review Committee, and is a city councillor in Burlington.
Student Krish Gandhi hollers at passing cars during the support rally for Robert Bateman high school held in early May.