Parents of students at two rural elementary schools, advocating against their closures, had their voices heard on Tuesday night.
A group of parents from both New Sarum and Springfield schools pleaded their cases at a special Thames Valley District School Board (TVSDB) meeting at the board office on Tuesday.
The schools were originally slated for closure in the spring of 2020 along with two other schools, after a 2017 vote by trustees to strengthen a proposal for a school to be built in Belmont.
A motion was introduced last month to revisit the closure of these two schools after opposition from the communities of New Sarum and Springfield.
“A school is not a building, it’s a community,” said Central Elgin mayor Sally Martyn.
“It’s a group of people that make it important. Why take schools out of rural communities that already have a tremendous sense of community and are the centre of these communities, and take them miles away from where they live?”
Martyn was one of a number of people at the meeting to advocate against the closing of the two schools.
A former teacher at New Sarum Elementary, Martyn spoke about the importance the community plays in the school and the academic achievements of the students, which include the school having the highest EQAO math scores in the TVDSB.
New Sarum parent Amy Smith spoke to trustees about the impact New Sarum has on the new school proposed for Belmont.
“We strongly feel the new Belmont school can proceed and we have always been in support of the new Belmont school,” Smith said, “excluding our 35 students that are slated to attend.”
Belmont is not the only new school being proposed. A second school in St. Thomas is also being planned, and if built, it would take the remainder of the New Sarum students.
New Sarum advocates weren’t the only ones talking about the strong community support and involvement.
Peter Rothus has one daughter who just started school and spoke about the benefits of having a school within walking distance for so many students.
“They would be losing a lot of home time,” Rothus said.
About half of the students at Springfield are able to either walk or ride their bikes, while the other half take the bus.
But not everyone who spoke at the meeting was advocating for the schools to stay open.
Westminster Central Elementary and South Dorchester Elementary are also slated to close.
Parents from Westminster were at the meeting and spoke about the impact that not closing down the schools might have on the possibility of a new school in Belmont opening.
Chair of the TVDSB, Arlene Morell, said there was the option for building a smaller school in Belmont.
“Trustee Ruddock felt that in the decision that was made three years ago there has been a significant shift in population growth,” Morell said, “and that a school of 400 to 450 can still be built in Belmont without the closure of Springfield and New Sarum.”
Megan Ruddock is the trustee for Elgin who initially proposed that the board take a second look at the closures.
Belmont does not currently have an elementary school, but the new school, as well as the new one in St. Thomas, are part of several capital priority projects on which the TVDSB is awaiting a response from the provincial government with regard to funding.
Trustees are expected to make a decision at their next board meeting next Tuesday, Nov. 26.