News

Village may feel impact of school closure

Jacob Robinson

By Jacob Robinson, Simcoe Reformer

Our Lady of LaSalette School

Our Lady of LaSalette School

LASALETTE - 

The residents of La Salette might not be the only ones impacted by the closure of the town’s school.

The Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk Catholic District School Board voted 3-2 on March 24 to close Our Lady of LaSalette at the end of the school year. The building opened in 1966 and has space for 187 students but just north of 50 are currently enrolled.

The decision isn’t sitting well with parents and members of the village – some of whom feel the process was rushed and simply done to secure funding at another school.

“I totally understand the fiscal responsibility of the board and the realities of keeping a school with 54 kids open, but I think that a lot of us have been disappointed with how it’s been handled,” said school supporter Amanda Bakker.

Bakker’s son is in Senior Kindergarten at OLOL this year, and her daughter was set to begin school in the fall.

The board asked parents to declare by Monday, April 3, which nearby Catholic elementary school – St. Frances in Delhi or Waterford’s St. Bernard’s – they would like their children to attend.

Some families, said Bakker, were looking at other options.

“I’ve spoken to several parents who are specifically thinking of taking their kids out of the Catholic board because they’re disappointed with how it’s been handled,” she added.

The approved board plan will see about 28 students being transferred to St. Frances for the 2017-18 school year, prompting the addition of one classroom space and a review of the facility’s Early Learning Kindergarten Program classroom.

The opposition feels La Salette’s closure was done in order to try and secure government funding for St. Frances.

“As a business owner, we pay a lot higher education tax rate than residents do (and) it’s not a very good business decision,” said Bernie Byer, a former OLOL student, and owner of Byer’s General Store in La Salette.

“It’s not good for the kids because now they have further to travel on the bus.”

Added Bakker, “the Ministry of Education’s funding formula is rewarding boards for closing schools. That’s never been said outright.”

Board trustee Cliff Casey pleaded with his fellow voters for an amendment that would see the school close in the spring of 2018. That extra year, Casey argued, would give residents the time they need to find another purpose for the building.

The community has shown an ability to rally in the past, like in 2011 when the La Salette Area Rural Roots Community Hall Corporation purchased and began refurbishing the La Salette Historic Church and Community Hall.

“We’re trying to keep the place active instead of just being a bedroom community,” said Byer, the Rural Roots president.

“If you have a place with a school and you have a business, there’s always something going on ... You take that part away and they’re just a collection of houses and you’re losing the community.”

OLOL wasn’t looked at as simply the default school in the Bakker household. The family toured a handful of others in the area and even considered home school and private facilities but La Salette stuck out.

“Walking in that school versus some of the other schools that we’ve been to, it’s very warm,” Bakker began. “Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with any of the other schools but it felt right, it’s a family school, Eleanor Mertens – the secretary – she knows the name of all the kids ... she knows which shoes belong to each kid. It’s a great atmosphere – everybody knows everybody and everybody is looking out for your kids.”

jrobinson@postmedia.com