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Parents vow to fight closure of Catholic school in Vaughan
After months of controversy, trustees with the York Catholic District School Board have voted to close Our Lady of Peace elementary school.
March 1, 2017
Noor Javed

After months of controversy and upheaval, trustees with the York Catholic District School Board have voted to shut down an elementary school in Vaughan, but angry parents are vowing to continue their fight to keep it open.

Despite letters of support from three provincial parties and local politicians, the trustees voted 5-3 (with one abstention) on Tuesday night, to close Our Lady of Peace, situated in the heart of old Maple.

The school, which is 97 per cent full, and has both an English stream and a French immersion program, will close in June. Both programs will be transferred to nearby schools.

Board staff had put forward a recommendation to close the school as part of a “pupil-accommodation review,” a process mandated by the province to help reduce “under-utilized” and half-empty schools as the board wrestles with budget problems.

The plan to close Our Lady of Peace has angered community members who challenged some of the board’s data as inaccurate and incomplete.

“Do you not care what the community is telling you?” asked parent Jasmine Mousseau, who said people are outraged that despite “uncovering inconsistencies, misrepresentation of data, and flawed policy” the board “is just forging ahead” with plans to close the school.

The parents also raised concerns about plans to send the children in the English stream to Father John Kelly elementary school, which is on a main arterial road and is located next to a gas station. The students in the French stream, meanwhile, would go to Blessed Trinity.

Parent Frank Bilotta says the community is now deliberating over taking legal action. He said they filed a notice of action against the board on Monday and will decide if they will file an injunction or appeal the board’s decision with the Ministry of Education.

“We have maintained all along that the process has been flawed and biased,” he said. “And we are going to challenge it.”

Board chair Carol Cotton said the decision “met the objectives agreed to when this PAR (pupil-accommodation review) was initiated” including reducing the number of “unfunded pupil places.” There are currently 6,000 surplus spots in the board. The option the board chose reduces capacity of 457 of them. The board report shows the other two options, which would have left Our Lady of Peace open, would have reduced capacity by over 600 spots.

But Vaughan-Woodbridge Trustee Dino Giuliani, who put forward a motion to restart the process given all the controversy and voted against the closure, says the process has been far from transparent.

“We did not have the confidence of the community … because there were so many issues raised during this process,” he said. “I believe if we had followed a better process, there would be fewer unhappy people here or parents who will eventually leave the board.”