The Nova Scotia government is once again changing the way underused schools are closed in the province, in hopes of making the process less confrontational.
It's the third time in less than a decade that the review process has been revamped.
When the proposed legislation becomes law, school boards will no longer be able to review individual schools for closure. Instead, they will have to look at families of schools and come up with long-term regional plans for their facilities.
To prevent duelling reviews from the boards and community members, the province said local school committees will conduct reviews of groups of schools and examine what they believe are the best solutions with the help of an independent facilitator.
"The reality is, I don't think you can ever take the emotion out," said Bob Fowler, the former deputy minister and mayor of Bridgetown who was hired to review the process for the province.
"I do believe based on the consultation that we did — talking with a broad range of stakeholders — that a more inclusive process will make it better, more understandable and more based in fact as opposed to different points of view."
Fowler said rather than simply closing schools that are no longer needed, boards will have to look first at changing boundaries or combining grades to better use resources.
As it stands, school boards are not required to base their school closure decisions on specific information, but they can look at population numbers, enrolment patterns and facility utilization.
Education Minister Karen Casey said reports and recommendations would be prepared by the committee and not school board staff, parents and the community, but school boards would remain responsible for deciding whether a school should be closed.
The province is hoping the new system will be implemented by September.
Between the 2008-2009 school year and the 2012-2013 school year, boards across the province decided to close 40 schools, according to a Department of Education and Early Childhood Development discussion paper.