News

Catholic board approves closing Norfolk school

By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor

Despite an impassioned plea from trustee Cliff Casey to slow the process, the Catholic school board voted this week to close Our Lady of La Salette School.

Parents, children and several teachers wiped away tears after the brief special meeting Thursday night of the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board ended with a 3-2 vote to close the Norfolk County elementary school.

The school will close at the end of June and students will be transferred to St. Francis Cabrini School in Delhi and St. Bernard of Clairvaux School in Waterford. Those schools are seven and 19 kilometres from La Salette.

La Salette resident Beth Dorschner wasted no time in letting board trustees know her feelings.

"That is our community. That is our kids' lives. That's their social life. There's nothing left once they take our school," Dorschner said as she and her daughter left Brantford's Catholic Education Centre, where the meeting took place.

Dorschner said she fears that young families won't come to the village without a school and La Salette students will feel marginalized at the Delhi and Waterford schools.

"I moved (to La Salette) specifically for a small school and now they've taken it away."

A staff report showed that the La Salette school has just 52 students in a building meant for 187.

The report outlined four options - of which three featured the school closing. The recommended option was to close La Salette at the end of the school year and divided the students between nearby schools in Delhi and Waterford.

Parents and some teachers argued that the process was rushed and flawed. They said that erroneous dollar figures made the running of the school look more expensive than it is. Some pointed out that closing small rural schools is a direct hit to the farm communities that feed the province.

For his part, Casey made a pitch for a reprieve for the school.

Citing political support and the importance of rural schools on the economy and their communities, Casey asked for an amendment that would see the school close at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

"The people of this community are smart and know how to work together," said Casey, suggesting that residents could find ways keep the building open.

"As long as there's a school, villages can attract young people but who wants to buy in a village with no school?" he said.

"There's been a Catholic school in that community since 1853. Give them time to utilize the empty space and bring the enrolment up."

Casey's request found no seconder.

Trustees Bill Chopp, Dan Dignard and Bonnie McKinnon voted in favour of closing the school. Voting against were Casey and trustee Carol Luciani.

After the meeting, Luciani said she didn't supported Casey's motion seeking a delay in the closing process because she feels the school shouldn't be closed at all.

"A one-year moratorium wasn't the answer," she said.

"It just wasn't enough. My husband was a principal at La Salette and I have many connections to that community. My heart goes out to our La Salette families."

Board chairman Rick Petrella said that, while his heart is also with the small school, trustees are responsible for a district and not just one village.

"We were looking at costs of almost double per pupil to keep students there. It's hard to justify a school with 52 kids in it," he said.

"I know it's not a popular decision but it was a fiscal decision."

Education director Chris Roehrig said that the entire process had been a difficult one for staff and the board.

"We all get into education to educate kids and I never thought I'd see the day where I'd have to close a school."

Roehrig said the board now will look at setting up an integration committee to ease the process of moving La Salette students into new schools.

"I think the parents and students will be pleasantly surprised about the programs they'll now be able to access."

Casey said the process was far too rushed.

"I'm terribly disappointed that we wouldn't give the community a little more time."

SGamble@postmedia.com

@EXPSGamble

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