The impact of school closures
Neighbourhood public schools play a significant role in communities around the province, serving children, youth and families, providing public space, offering programs, hosting events, building social connections, and providing a hub for many facets of community life. Schools are key in developing community connections and pride in the accomplishments of community members.
Bureaucrats align school closures with economic savings, although it should not be taken for granted that this is so. However, any examination of the cost of keeping schools open should be balanced against the broader costs to children, families, and the communities of closing schools.
When students are displaced because of a school closure, they often face longer days, travelling by bus or family vehicle to a school outside the community rather than walking to the neighbourhood school. The transportation schedules for these students present obstacles to both extra-curricular activities at their new schools and to programs in their home communities. After-school play with classmates becomes more difficult to arrange as well. While the government and school boards often encourage walking to school as a form of healthy exercise and an environmentally responsible choice, school closures remove that option for many children.
With their children attending school away from their home community or neighbourhood, it is often more difficult for parents to volunteer at school, attend events, deal with any medical issues their child may experience, and connect with their child’s teachers.
The loss of a school has significant implications for the broader community as well. In addition to the impact of losing the public space and social connections provided by the school, school closures present a significant deterrent to families staying in the community or moving to it. School closures affect property values, businesses, and community viability overall.
Ontario went through a period of school closures during the Harris years. In a 2003 report on school closures, the Ontario education advocacy organization, People for Education, had this to say:
“Schools are the hubs of their communities and have an importance that goes beyond education; they play a major role in the economic development of their communities and they make communities more attractive to newcomers. Businesses are more likely to move to communities with schools, and families will not move to communities without schools. As populations decline in northern and rural Ontario, boards reliant on per pupil funding close more schools. A vicious cycle ensues: fewer people move there, populations decline further, more schools close.
In many small towns and inner city neighbourhoods, small schools also offer space for community use. Three quarters of Ontario’s small elementary schools and 83% of small high schools report that their schools are used by the community after school hours for everything from sporting events to ratepayers meetings.”