As an emotional battle to save a series of Ottawa schools from closing draws to an end, some families are threatening to pull their children out of the public school board, saying their trust has been broken and their relationship with the board irrevocably damaged.
'I'm really disappointed with the public school board right now' - Arlene Seletaria-Childs, parent
Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustees are expected to make their final decision tonight over whether or not to close six elementary schools in west Ottawa.
The vote to close Rideau High School in east Ottawa is scheduled for March 7.
"I've been really considering [getting] my son to go to a Catholic school," said Arlene Seletaria-Childs, the mother of a grade 6 student at J.H. Putman Public School, one of the five schools being discussed tonight.
"I'm really disappointed with the public school board right now ... I'm not sure I can really trust them."
Seletaria-Childs is one of the parents who campaigned to keep the school open, and said she feels the board isn't listening to her concerns.
She said she's talking to her son Erin about leaving behind his friends, taking a bus for the first time, and transferring to a Catholic school — even though he's not religious.
"There's still a lot of anger," she said. "I'm not sure if I want to support a board that does not listen to what the parents are saying and [are] taking a successful school and dismantling it."
Parents touring other school boards
Some parents have started touring other boards' schools, calling principals, and filling out paperwork for a transfer, said Granda Kopytko, a parent representative for the OCDSB review.
Kopytka, who is in contact with parents at J.H. Putman, Agincourt and Woodroffe Avenue schools, said that more than half of the 80 parents she surveyed in the fall agreed that they would contemplate sending their children to another board if the changes proceeded as planned.
She told CBC News she knows of at least four parents who have personally contacted her and said they plan to follow through.
"People have already gone to other schools for interviews with counselors," said Kopytko. "One individual told me they are moving ... they are leaving the west side of the city."
Gina Bies is one of the parents contemplating switching her son Roland to a school with Ottawa's French school board, one that offers an International Baccalaureate program.
Bies said she's concerned the OCDSB isn't thinking long-term about what parents are looking for.
"Providing quality programming doesn't seem to be the focus," said Bies."This board seems to be lessening choices rather than increasing parents' choices."
Bies added that she's concerned the board is focusing on trying to meet funding targets after losing $8 million from the province over three years.
'There's still a lot of anger'
Mike Carson, the OCDSB's superintendent of facilities, said that once the anger dies down, he expects only a small percentage of parents to follow through and actually leave the school board.
"I think a lot of this is people venting their frustration," said Carson. "They're concerned about a loss in the school and the loss of a building in their community."
"Usually once people have a chance to sit down, take a deep breath and see what the impact is, there are always a few people where it makes sense for them to change to another school," Carson added.
"But usually, they stay with us and go to the new designated school."
I know it's hard for people to believe, but ... there are not huge financial savings from closing these schools. - Mike Carson, the OCDSB's superintendent of facilities
The board has said its top priority is children's education, and merging schools with low enrolment will give students a stronger selection of courses and extracurricular activities.
"I know it's hard for people to believe, but we've said it from the beginning, there are not huge financial savings from closing these schools," said Carson.
"We are doing it because we want to improve the educational opportunities for those kids."
Enrolment down 1 percent
According to Carson, enrolment at OCDSB has dropped less than one percent over the past five years.
That's a plateau the board says it saw coming for a number of reasons, including demographic trends and the fact that, quite often, the first school in a neighbourhood that opens attracts more students.
Enrolment has increased at other Ottawa school boards over the same time period between 2012-2016:
- English Catholic board: 6.9 per cent growth
- French public board: 21 per cent growth
- French Catholic board: 11.2 per cent growth