Impassioned speeches from a senator and a former Ottawa city councillor weren't enough to sway school board trustees, who voted 7-5 Tuesday night in favour of closing Rideau High School.
Senator Vern White, the former chief of Ottawa police, urged Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustees to keep the high school open, arguing in his written delegation that while closing the school might save money, "the long-term effect will be much more costly to this community and the families that live here."
- Smudge room to move when Rideau High School closes, trustee says
"For many of these kids, giving them a Presto pass and thinking a 10 kilometre bus ride [to Gloucester High School] is the same is naive on our part," White said before the meeting began.
"We cannot afford to close that school."
The senator went further, calling it unfair for the board to be faced with deciding to close the school in the first place.
"If the province owns this, let them own it, let them make that decision. They're the ones not coming up with the money. Let them own the decision to take away what that community has going for it," he said.
'I will vote with the staff recommendation'
Trustee Donna Blackburn wasn't moved by the senator's remarks, and said despite what she called a well organized political campaign to keep Rideau open, she couldn't support that option.
"I heard from a former cop, without a background in education, and I've heard from lots of people, but I have not heard for any compelling reason to change my vote, so I will vote with the staff recommendation," she said.
The meeting lasted three and a half hours. About 100 people attended, including about 20 Syrian refugees living at nearby 1240 Donald St., an apartment building inside the school's catchment area.
The board has blamed the situation on low enrolment at Rideau High School, located on St. Laurent Boulevard at Guy Street. Its closure will send about 400 students to Gloucester High School, which, like Rideau High School, is also operating at about 40 per cent capacity.
Delegations from Gloucester, including the current student council president, made presentations meant to reassure and welcome Rideau High students worried about losing their school.
'This is bad'
Former city councillor Jacques Legendre was another of the 15 registered delegates given one minute to make an argument about the decision.
The former physicist and politician spoke in opposition of the plan to close the high school, as he did seven years ago when the school board was again mulling its closure. This is the second time in the past decade Rideau High School has been on the chopping block.
Legendre accused the trustees of selecting Rideau for closure because of the land's high value.
"We have trustees who, frankly, like to think of themselves as developers," he said.
"This is bad. This is really bad."
Rideau serves a low-income neighbourhood that includes a growing population of Indigenous families and Syrian refugees, the area's trustee, Chris Ellis, had previously told CBC News.
The school has received additional provincial funding over the years to help those students, and Ellis has said the board shouldn't be taking resources away from those who need them most.
Trustees voting in favour of closing Rideau were Lynn Scott, Donna Blackburn, Theresa Kavanagh, Mark Fisher, Keith Penny, Sandra Schwartz and Shirley Seward. Opposed were Christine Boothby, Anita Olsen Harper, Chris Ellis, Shawn Menard and Erica Braunovan.
In February, school trustees recommended keeping Regina Street Public School open as an alternative school, but closing six other elementary schools:
- Century Public School.
- Leslie Park Public School.
- D. Aubrey Moodie Intermediate School.
- Greenbank Middle School.
- Grant Alternative School.
- J.H. Putman School.
Trustees also voted to direct school board staff to explore the possibility of a school name change for Gloucester High School, when its student body becomes an amalgamation of Gloucester and Rideau students.