It’s time for one school system
Niagara school closures show the need to eliminate Catholic schools across Ontario
There is a disturbing situation in Niagara West. Grimsby, Beamsville and Smithville. Each has a public high school. The school board has voted to close the three schools, because of declining enrolment, and build a “super school” in a rural area between Grimsby and Beamsville, such that all students must be bused in from the three towns.
There is a Catholic school in Grimsby that draws from all three towns. There are enough secondary students in each town to have a viable secondary school in each town if there were no separate school system or if the separate system were willing to share facilities.
It has been suggested that town council, DSBN and our MPP very forcefully demand that the Government of Ontario either force the separate board to share facilities in each of the three towns or eliminate separate school funding entirely. It appears that no one has the courage to address the fact that separate school funding is an anachronistic, undemocratic, divisive, exclusive and extremely expensive privilege that has no place in 2017 Ontario.
This situation is not exclusive to Niagara West. The problem exists in many towns and rural areas.
Public funding of Roman Catholic separate schools is wrong for many reasons:
1. Students should not be segregated by religion,
2. It is contrary to the education act principles of inclusivity and equity,
3. It is discriminatory toward students, favouring one religion, making it undemocratic,
4. It allows for discrimination in employment on the basis of religion,
5. The existence of public and separate schools in small communities divides the community on the basis of religion,
6. The extra cost of operating four systems of education varies from one billion to three billion dollars per year.
7. Public funding of Roman Catholic separate schools is not guaranteed in the constitution.
1. Ontario is now a multicultural, multiethnic, heterogeneous province with many religions represented. Segregation by religion leads to mistrust, misunderstanding and discrimination.
2. The separate school system is exclusive to Roman Catholics. Although section 42(13) provides any separate school student with the opportunity to opt out of the religious indoctrination, exemptions are rarely, if ever, granted.
3. The United Nations has twice condemned (1999, 2005) the practice of publicly funding Roman Catholic separate schools, while denying funding to other faiths, as a violation of the province’s and Canada’s international human rights obligations. No group should have a privileged position.
Manitoba (1890), Quebec (1997) and Newfoundland and Labrador (1998) abolished their faith based systems of education.
4. Despite the laws governing employment that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, etc., the separate school boards hire only Catholics. One’s religion has no bearing on his/her ability to teach.
5. The community divide is demonstrated in Niagara West (See Paragraph 1). There will be a loss to the local economies of the three towns as well as a loss of community spirit. If there were one system of education, there are sufficient students of all religions to have a viable secondary school in each community — Beamsville, Grimsby and Smithville.
The separate secondary school in Grimsby is not a community school.
Particularly in smaller towns, the one school system allows students to attend school in their own communities.
6. Regarding the extra cost of operating four systems of education, the emphasis is on “extra”. The more obvious extra costs are:
a. Operating two, three or four board offices in each jurisdiction. Each board office has a Director of Education, a group of superintendents, support and clerical staff,
b. Buses picking up students near the public school to deliver them to the nearest separate school and other buses doing the reverse
Implementation of one education system will reduce expenses for the following reasons:
a. Amalgamation of nearby under capacity schools,
b. Reduction in advertising expenses for competing school boards,
c. Economy of scale regarding purchasing, d. Better use of support personnel, e. Better program selection and extracurricular opportunities in small town schools.
The most common estimates regarding the extra cost of operating four systems as opposed to operating one secular publicly funded education system are in the range of $1.5 billion to $2 billion annually.
In studies done using Ministry of Education figures from 2006 to 2011, it was found that the separate school system received more money per student every year — ranging from $700 per student per year to $2,900 per student per year.
7. According to the Canadian Supreme Court the provinces have the absolute power to govern education, subject to conditions in Section 93, subsections (1) to (4). Essentially, the province has the right to fund separate schools if it so chooses. It also has the right eliminate that funding if it chooses to follow the correct procedures.
Tom Roden lives in Grimsby.
South Lincoln high school students hold hands while listening to the motion being read by DSBN staff to close high schools in Grimsby, Beamsville and Smithville in order to build one centralized facility. The vote passed unanimously.