School di­vi­sions: How we got here

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - Langue de Molière -- Richard Ma­honey

Since hind­sight is 20-20, in the cur­rent school merger dis­cus­sions, it would be use­ful to look back and con­sider how we ended up with four school sys­tems. One of sev­eral im­por­tant chap­ters in the his­tory of schools oc­curred 50 years ago.

In 1969, at a meet­ing of the United Coun­ties Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, a mo­tion to ac­cept, in prin­ci­ple and im­ple­ment as soon as pos­si­ble, French lan­guage in­struc­tion in Grade 9 at St. Lawrence High School was de­feated by a vote of 8-5.

Lu­cien Chénier un­der­lined that news item from the past that was re­lated in our Fe­bru­ary 20 in­stall­ment of Auld Lang Syne.

Mr. Chénier, who was at the time a mem­ber of the Stor­mon­tDun­das-Glen­garry English-lan­guage pub­lic board of ed­u­ca­tion, recal­led that the de­ci­sion to refuse in­struc­tion in the was one of the con­tribut­ing fac­tors that led to the quadro- board ar­range­ment we have now.

The pro­posal to have French taught at St. Lawrence in Corn­wall was a con­tentious one, ob­vi­ously. Mr. Chénier re­mem­bers that sev­eral trustees did not want to take a pub­lic stance on the is­sue; many of them ab­stained from vot­ing when the sug­ges­tion was re­jected.

Although the mem­bers were clearly di­vided, the re­fusal sent a clear mes­sage to fran­co­phones -- they would not re­ceive high school ed­u­ca­tion in their mother tongue un­der the SDG board of ed­u­ca­tion.

Mr. Chénier, a typ­i­cal Alexan­drian, is flu­ently bilin­gual, eas­ily shift­ing from one of­fi­cial lan­guage to an­other. He at­tended the McCormick Road school, where at one point fran­co­phone par­ents asked if they could rent the premises for some af­ter-school French-lan­guage lessons. No way, the an­g­los replied.

So the fran­co­phones went off and cre­ated their own en­tity; the ranks of the ru­ral school were de­pleted; the school closed.

At that time, On­tario’s Catholic schools were not fully funded by pub­lic money. There were ele­men­tary French-lan­guage schools. But af­ter they grad­u­ated from the pri­mary sys­tem, all sec­ondary school stu­dents were obliged to at­tend schools ad­min­is­tered by pub­lic, non­de­nom­i­na­tional boards. Some sys­tems had mixes of ele­men­tary and sec­ondary pan­els and fran­co­phone and an­glo­phone mem­bers. Fast for­ward a few decades. The On­tario gov­ern­ment de­cided to ex­tend full pub­lic fund­ing to sep­a­rate schools. Boards and schools were di­vided along re­li­gious and lin­guis­tic lines. Now we are be­ing told that we can­not af­ford four sys­tems. On the provin­cial level, the On­tario gov­ern­ment is said to be plan­ning to force the amal­ga­ma­tion of sys­tems, tak­ing aim­ing at school boards in smaller com­mu­ni­ties. Of course, any whiff of change is bound to face re­sis­tance. For in­stance, a union rep­re­sent­ing 55,000 ed­u­ca­tion work­ers has sounded the alarm.

The rea­son­ing be­hind the Ford gov­ern­ment’s ru­moured plans to re­duce the num­ber of school boards across On­tario is based on a set of false as­sump­tions and the move won’t save money, but will weaken the prov­ince’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, says Laura Wal­ton, pres­i­dent of the On­tario School Board Coun­cil of Unions (OSBCU), a coun­cil of the Cana­dian Union of Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees (CUPE).

“This plan is not based in re­al­ity. There is noth­ing in our ex­pe­ri­ence that sug­gests merg­ers will lead to cost sav­ings in the long run,” said Laura Wal­ton, pres­i­dent of the OSBCU. “Pub­lic sec­tor re­struc­tur­ing in other sec­tors has demon­strated that merg­ers can ac­tu­ally cost far more than they save. In fact, On­tario’s Au­di­tor Gen­eral found that hospi­tal re­struc­tur­ing un­der the Mike Har­ris gov­ern­ment ac­tu­ally cost $3.2 bil­lion.”

Re­duc­ing the num­ber of school boards across the prov­ince will have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on ed­u­ca­tion be­cause the re­main­ing boards will have larger geo­graph­i­cal ar­eas to cover with fewer re­sources to serve their com­mu­ni­ties, con­tends the union.

“This move is an at­tack on lo­cal democ­racy and a con­cern for par­ents and stu­dents and any­one who cares about qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. The gov­ern­ment is mak­ing our school sys­tem less re­spon­sive to stu­dent needs and less able to meet the di­verse needs of dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially in ru­ral and re­mote ar­eas of the prov­ince,” Ms. Wal­ton charges.

Ob­vi­ously, bat­tle lines are al­ready be­ing drawn in a skir­mish that has barely started.

If this merger idea does ad­vance be­yond pre­lim­i­nary stages, you might want to clip and save that note on the 1969 board of ed­u­ca­tion de­ci­sion.

There has al­ways been a lot of talk about co­op­er­a­tion and har­mony. But ac­tions speak louder than words.

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