By Rejean Pommainville,
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Rural Ontario is facing a critical social and structural concern – the closing of rural schools. There’s an alarming trend of local school boards closing low enrolment schools without considering the well-being of those students, their families and communities.
Schools are an integral part of the economic and service infrastructure necessary for prosperity in our agricultural and rural communities. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is committed to addressing issues like rural school closures.
Rural school closures were discussed extensively at a recent OFA Policy Advisory Council (PAC) meeting in Brockville. OFA members across all counties and regions share the concern of school closures – a result of cutbacks in operating expenses that’s done at the expense of rural students and communities. PAC members have identified these closures as a provincial concern and OFA will be working with regions impacted by the threat of rural school closures.
OFA opposes school closure decisions that are made without the consideration of critical factors that impact the students, rural families and communities. Too often important decisions like these are made without critical consideration to transportation, student employment opportunities and parental involvement.
Rural school closures mean students are faced with lengthy bus rides to larger schools in urban areas. Hours could be spent each day on a bus, impacting students’ attentiveness, learning potential and ability to participate in extracurricular activities.
Longer commutes to school also impact students’ opportunities for after school and part-time jobs. Every community – urban and rural – relies on part-time student positions to run their businesses. Student jobs are also an integral part of gaining job experience and saving for post-secondary education.
Schools increasingly rely on parent volunteers, and those volunteers will be lost if they can’t travel the greater distance to a larger urban school.
Rural schools are also central to the community, acting as hubs for social, service and athletic events and community groups that rely on school buildings.
We can’t compromise the welfare and best interests of our next generation and our rural communities with school closures that do not account for all costs. Rural Ontario values its children and their education. OFA will be working with affected counties to ensure they receive the necessary support to secure the proper development and growth opportunities for their rural students, families and communities.