Rideau High School’s doors are one step closer to being closed for good.
Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustees voted seven to five at a Feb. 16 committee meeting to close Rideau High School and to move its students to Gloucester High School following recommendations made by staff in their Eastern Secondary Review.
Staff began to look at Rideau and Gloucester’s declining enrolments in the spring of last year and suggested that the two schools be combined at Gloucester.
Board trustees spent Feb. 15 and Feb. 16 discussing the proposal before voting to close Rideau.
On Feb. 15 more than 50 people spoke as part of the delegations, with half of those speakers pleading for the school to remain open.
The decision to close the school has come much to the dismay and sorrow of the students, parents and community members who love that school. According to many, this move will result in not only students jumping boards, but also dropouts.
One grandfather, Albert Dumont, appealed to the board of trustees on Feb. 15 that without Rideau, his granddaughter would have been a dropout.
“If Rideau closes, some of the 37 indigenous students who go there will drop out. I know that,” Dumont said. “Gloucester might just be five kilometres away, but it may as well be a universe away. Vanier is Vanier. If you lived there you would understand the pulse of the community. I need you to understand the importance of keeping Rideau open. We don’t feel we have much in Vanier, but we have Rideau.”
When pressed further by trustees, Dumont reiterated his feelings about the distance — spiritually — Gloucester will be for the students. And that, he said should count.
Dumont wasn’t the only one who felt the indigenous students needs are being ignored.
In early 2014 Rideau opened its Aboriginal Learning Space — affectionately called “the lodge” by staff and students.
This space is an evolution of an original classroom which offered aboriginal students a space to connect with their culture that has now been expanded to achieve three main objectives: educational programming, professional development and an aboriginal student-specific programming board-wide.
It also offers a traditional space that can be used by the aboriginal community.
The walls are covered in cedar, carpet, artwork and a dedicated smudge room with its own ventilation system.
The loss of the lodge is of great concern to the community, and was expressed during that first evening of deliberations, with many community members stating that the closure would sever the relationship the school board has built with the students and could set Aboriginal, Metis, Inuit and First Nations students back, ultimately resulting in students dropping out.
According to staff, work is already underway to create a lodge at Gloucester,
Trustee Sandra Schwartz, who represents the zone where Gloucester is located was emotional moments before the vote.
“We all have difficulty with this decision,” Schwartz said. “It’s been a long few months. As I began my term I didn’t believe I would be tasked with this decision.
It is hard to see the community torn apart by this, but I believe the staff recommendation is the right decision.”
Schwartz added this would allow all east-end students to finally have a proper secondary education.
“It will be a school that is stronger and better as a result,” she said.
The result of consolidating the schools will allow for the board to offer a wider range of courses to the one school, allocating resources to one space and offering students the chance to fully succeed academically and prosper in post-secondary education.
Trustee Shawn Menard voted against the closure, and during the first day of debates, he tried his best to fight to keep Rideau alive.
On Feb. 16 he too pleaded with his colleagues to keep the school open.
“Vote to keep Rideau open and do the right thing tonight,” he said.
Often quoted as a special school, a school that deals with the most vulnerable students, the message from those students, parents and community members was a little different.
Yes, they all begged for the school to stay open because if it closed the equity factor would be greatly unbalanced.
But more importantly, they spoke about how beyond extra courses; the school was a safe place to be.
Shane Gareau is a student at Rideau High in the learning disability program.
“I don’t want my school to close. I’m finally close to my school,” Shane said. “I’ve had a rough time, I didn’t like any of the schools I have gone to, but this was the first time I felt home. I just want my school to stay … I’m disappointed in you guys because you guys are closing my school, You are supposed to know what to do and help the kids but you’re not. You’re destroying my life.”
Chair of the board of trustee Shirley Seward said the goal of trustees is to provide the best education for all students.
“I believe we as trustees we need to make the ethical and responsible decision to amalgamate the schools,” Seward said.
Prior to the vote, Seward proposed an amendment for the board to support the transition of Rideau students living in the Rideau boundary as well as students currently on transfers to Gloucester by providing transportation which will be facilitated by the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority, with the current policy and if possible, to provide the use of Presto cards.
Overbrook Community Association community member, Sheila Perry — who also spoke on behalf of community members on Feb. 15 to the board of trustees — sent out a letter on Feb. 17 to residents stating there is still time to fight.
“Please know that all efforts to support keeping Rideau High School open are valuable,” Perry wrote in the letter. “There is still time to sway the OCDSB school trustees, who make the final vote. Write to all School Trustees to make your voices known.”
This decision does not become final until a special board meeting planned for March 7.