By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Oshawa’s downtown needs help, and removing its only high school could only make things worse, supporters say.
The ongoing argument about the fate of Oshawa Central Collegiate, located at 155 Gibb St., continued at the most recent meeting of the Durham District School Board (DDSB), where supporters once again came out to plead the case for keeping the doors open.
The board meeting was the latest in a series of public meetings held through the DDSB’s Accommodation Review Committee, a group of staff, trustees and community members tasked with gathering information and feedback from the public to be passed on to the trustees who will make the final decision on Central.
Oshawa’s downtown, according to Durham Region’s Health Neighborhoods mapping, is the area of the city most in need. The region’s mapping system analyzed areas across the region, assessing them on population growth, income levels, life expectancy and other health indicators.
Oshawa’s downtown not only has the highest percentage of low-income households and highest unemployment rate, but it is the area where children are most vulnerable.
Early childhood development indicators show that more than half of children living downtown are vulnerable in physical health and well-being.
“Central’s area is sort of the ground zero for vulnerability,” says Steve Edmunds, the head of guidance for Central, adding that closing the school would only add further barriers to these already vulnerable kids.
The school board has cited decreasing enrolments and dismal population projections for the area as their reasoning for the possible closure.
The possible loss of another educational institution in Oshawa has garnered the attention of not only Oshawa city councillors, who have been vocal proponents against the closure, but Oshawa MPP Jennifer French as well.
French, in a letter to Liz Sandals, the province’s minister of education, says that closing the school would be “unacceptable” and that these schools are “the hearts of our communties.”
“This will be devastating on that area,” French tells The Express. “This does not strengthen our education system, it does not strengthen our communities and it certainly does not strengthen the potential for strong futures for these kids.”
If Central were to be closed, students would be redirected from their feeder schools to Eastdale CVI, five kilometres away. Eastdale would then see an addition built to handle the extra students. This would force many students in the downtown area, who are currently able to walk to school, to now take a bus across town.
“We’re just putting more obstacles in their paths in an area we see as being under resourced, as needing more support, not to be undermined,” French says. “For what it’s worth, we’re hoping the minster will pay attention and will actually look at individual communities, look at the actual schools and communities affected by this broad school closures campaign.”
In 2014, the Liberal government announced that in order to address a $12.5-billion deficit, cuts as high as $500 million would be coming to education and part of that would be addressing hundreds of half-empty schools across the province.
A final decision on Central is set to be made in February.