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Echoing concerns raised recently by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), the National Farmers Union-Ontario Grey County Local 344 wishes to draw attention to the alarming trend of local school boards closing low enrolment schools.

"The boards are apparently closing the schools without considering the well-being of the students, their families and communities," said Brenda Hsueh, member of the NFU-O Grey County Local Executive.

Hsueh cited several reasons why rural schools should be kept open if at all possible. "Students could face hours each day on a bus being transported to an urban school, impacting their attentiveness, learning potential and ability to participate in extracurricular activities," she said.

Hsueh added: Longer commutes to school also can impact students' opportunities for after school and part-time jobs. "Every community – urban and rural – relies on part-time student positions to run their businesses," she said. "Student jobs are also an integral part of gaining job experience and saving for post-secondary education."

Hsueh is also concerned about the closures' impact on parent volunteerism. "In this age of cutbacks schools increasingly rely on parent volunteers, and those volunteers will be lost if they can't travel the greater distance to larger urban schools," she said.

Those opposing rural school closures say that decisions to shut down the schools are typically made without critical consideration of transportation, student employment opportunities and parental involvement. These are "critical factors that impact students, rural families and communities," the OFA said in a media release.

Grey and Bruce County Councils have joined forces and asked the Ministry of Education to come up with fair guidelines for school accommodation reviews and to halt the closure of rural schools in Ontario. The two councils passed the motion at a joint meeting in Elmwood, Ontario Last November. Several rural schools have been closed in Grey County in recent years and many in other parts of the province.

Vibrant rural communities are a core value of the National Farmers Union, and public education and rural schools are a critical source of that vibrancy, said Gary Kenny, President of NFU-O Grey County Local 344. "Closing rural schools may seriously weaken communities by furthering the process of de-ruralization whereby families, mostly for economic reasons, are forced to pull up their rural roots and move to towns and cities," he said.

"The NFU promotes the public good, and it's difficult to see how closing rural schools, with its impact on small communities, will further the public good, despite the financial efficiencies closures may represent," Kenny added.

The Ontario Ministry of Education apparently doesn't have the authority to overrule school boards' decisions on closures.

source: media release, NFU Local 344


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