Parents don't want book shut on school libraries

Parents and students who are part of the Catholic school system in Windsor, Ont., are fighting the school board's plan to close libraries and lay off librarians.

High school students to protest on Monday

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School board says libraries have moved into the classroom. ((CBC News))

Parents and students who are part of the Catholic school system in Windsor, Ont., are fighting the school board's plan to close libraries and lay off librarians.

A group of parents met on Thursday morning outside a LaSalle, Ont., elementary school to figure out their next move.

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board said last month that declining enrollment is forcing them to lay off 39 school librarians and close the libraries. The board is facing a $10-million budget cut next year. It lost 800 students last year and is projecting a similar loss next year.

Parents blindsided

Karen Osbourne, the co-chair of the parent advisory council at Sacred Heart Elementary School, said parents expected more discussion before a sweeping change was made.

"I don't know that this will change the final decision, but the board needs to know that they can't just do this without informing the public, letting the public in on it," said Osborne.

Fellow co-chair Sheri Kochelskiis said the decision isn't sitting well with a lot of parents.

"We have fundraised for over 10 years to build this library. I've watched it grow over the years and the biggest part is my concerns were about the books and literacy. Literacy is [so] big in education today and I was hoping to see that grow," Kochelskiis said.

"We as taxpayers are funding our children's education. Nobody came and asked us what our opinion was about closing the library and if we had any solution on how to save the library," said Paula Belanger, a parent of two children at the school.

Members of the Sacred Heart parent advisory council planned to attend the next school board meeting in two weeks. Other parents were contacting local provincial and federal politicians, she said.

Students to protest Monday

Grade 10 student Michael Lajoie is using Facebook to organize a protest on Monday at his school. ((Pat Jeflyn/CBC News))
The parents aren't the only ones complaining. Grade 10 student Michael Lajoie is using Facebook to organize a protest on Monday at his school. Lajoie was shocked by the board's decision.

"We're going to march around the school, [we] may go toward the board office and make them realize what's going on," Lajoie said.

A week ago, the library at Assumption High School where Lajoie attends, closed suddenly because the librarian facing a layoff found another job.

"Some friends don't have computers or printers at home, so the library was a big resource for them," said Lajoie.

Grade 10 student John Robinson said the board should find something else to cut.

"You're cutting out a valuable resource to us," Robinson said. "So why are you cutting out something we need?"

Superintendent Cathy Geml said there is a plan in place to reopen the Assumption library "on a scheduled basis" until the end of the year to accommodate students, but argued libraries aren't just quiet because it's a rule — students aren't using them. Geml said only about four students showed up on one of the nights the Assumption library was reopened.

The students initially planned to walk out of class, but decided instead hold the protest before school, at lunch and after school, said Lajoie.

"We don't want to cause anybody to get suspended, so we're going to be doing this on our own time. And during these rallies, we'll have petitions and distribute information to the groups that show up," he said.

Library delivery changing: school board

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School board contends that the way students learn is changing and libraries need to change, too. It also said that most of the books would be consolidated into libraries already found in the classrooms, where most students conduct research as part of the class curriculum.

"That was an area that we felt, as a senior administrative team, that would have little or no impact on student learning," said Jamie Bumbacco, school board superintendent.

Instead, the board envisions the "learning commons areas" — a new term for library — to be centres for guided research and information technology learning, led by classroom teachers, said Geml.

Geml said libraries aren't closing, they're just getting a makeover. Teachers are turning to scholarly journals found on the internet, and while there is always room for "rich text", students need to learn to do research online, she said.

"We have to teach our students to develop their own personal method and process of inquiry to transfer that learning. That's what we hope for our learning commons areas."

The board is "working on a plan that will be more enriched, will be more 21st Century and will equip students with the skills they need to be successful past secondary school," Geml said.