Ottawa

Closing Rideau High School a 'travesty,' trustees told

Students, teachers and community members pleaded with trustees Wednesday night to keep Rideau High School open, warning that closing the school would amount to a "travesty," and put some of the city's most vulnerable young people at risk.

Meeting ends without a decision on proposed closure

Student Melanie Patenaude said she attended 11 schools before finally finding comfort at Rideau High. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Students, teachers and community members pleaded with trustees Wednesday night to keep Rideau High School open, warning that closing the school would amount to a "travesty," and put some of the city's most vulnerable young people at risk.

More than 50 people were scheduled to speak during an Ottawa-Carleton District School Board meeting on Wednesday night.

The board has blamed the situation on low enrolment at Rideau High School, located on St. Laurent Boulevard at Guy Street. 

Its closure would send about 400 students to Gloucester High School, which is also at about 40 per cent capacity.

But after five hours of speeches and debate on Wednesday, the meeting ended near 11 p.m. without a vote.

Given that we are serving the most vulnerable youth in this city, it seems a travesty to close this school.- Kathryn Greer-Close

It is scheduled to resume on Thursday night.

Community member Kathryn Greer-Close stepped up to the microphone and said there is nothing to gain by closing Rideau High school, and everything to lose. 

"I don't understand how you are going to be coming out ahead," she said. "Given that we are serving the most vulnerable youth in this city, it seems a travesty to close this school."

"All I can imagine is that the value of the property is worth more than the education of the students. I'm very concerned about the classism and racism that we're seeing in closing such a crucial school," she added.

Community member Kathryn Greer-Close says it would be a "travesty" to close Rideau High School because it serves some of the most vulnerable students in the city. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Growing refugee, Indigenous population

Rideau serves a low-income neighbourhood that includes a growing population of Indigenous families and Syrian refugees, according to the area's trustee, Chris Ellis.

The school has received additional provincial funding over the years to help those students. Ellis said the board shouldn't be taking resources away from those who need them most. 

OCDSB trustee Chris Ellis says Rideau High School serves the city's lowest-income neighbourhood, and believes closing the school will put disadvantaged students at risk. (Ashley Burke/CBC )

"For many students, they may have had to leave home and are living on someone's couch, and just that extra 45-minute bus ride, that extra connection at St. Laurent to get on a bus to go to Gloucester may seem daunting to them," said Ellis.

"We need to look after the most vulnerable in our society."

It's become this place of comfort for me... Losing Rideau would be a huge loss.- Melanie Patenaude, Grade 11 student

Grade 11 student Melanie Patenaude said she has switched between nearly a dozen different schools before finally settling in at Rideau High School.

"I've grown really attached to Rideau," said Patenaude. "All the bad things melted away. It's become this place of comfort for me. I'm in the band, I'm in student council. Losing Rideau would be a huge loss. It would be really sad."

Benefits of merging schools 

OCDSB trustee Donna Blackburn, who represents Barrhaven/Knoxdale-Merivale, argued closing Rideau would be a good thing for students. She urged her colleagues to merge the two schools.

"They will have a more fulsome course selection and they will have a great opportunity for extracurricular activities, that's the bottom line," said Blackburn. "I'm very concerned about the way things have been characterized by certain trustees."

One Gloucester High School student read a speech telling Rideau High students they would be welcomed with open arms.

"I think it's a positive for both schools to be merging together," said Molly Kennedy. "I think we could be stronger and better together. They will be comfortable at our school, it's very welcoming, a positive place and a family. So they will be right in with the family."

Goucester High School student Molly Kennedy read a speech welcoming Rideau High students. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Call to open school to community

This is the second time in the past decade Rideau High school has been on the chopping block. School trustees questioned why, all these years later, Rideau can't attract more students. 

The school's community representative, Sheila Perry, said the solution is to offer more community services in empty classrooms. 

"Rideau High School is a huge asset," said Perry.

There are currently 300 Syrian refugees taking a language class upstairs, while Indigenous groups use the school's smudge room and young children attend preschool at Rideau, she said.

Decision in March

Earlier this week, 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.

The board is expected to make its final decision about the school closures in March.

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