Delegates offer passionate pleas to save Rideau High School

Parents, students and community activists provided passionate pleas at one of the last Ottawa Carleton District School Board meetings before a final decision on the future of Rideau High School.

More than 100 people packed the board room for a meeting of the Special Committee of the Whole, including more than 50 delegations. Grade 11 student Melanie Patenaude was among the speakers, encouraging the school trustees and board to keep Rideau High School open.

"It feels like students are being seen as numbers and percentages and what not and I just want people to be seen as people," Patenaude said.

A future med school hopeful, Patenaude said the stress of changing schools just one year before going off to colleague would be a huge adjustment.

"For me it would be really stressful to get used to the whole environment, to the teachers, to the different students and classes, and to the school."

Many of the students at Rideau come from diverse backgrounds, some have recently arrived in Canada as new immigrants and refugees, while others come from marginalized backgrounds and families of low-socioeconomic status. The school also a special english as a second language program and specialized initiatives to help reach out to its large First Nations community. 

“Do you know what it feels like to have your child come home and say he doesn’t feel stupid anymore?” Sara Bernard told the board about her son, Shane Gareau, who has a learning disability and is in a special class at Rideau High School. “He knows he’s different, but everybody treats him normal,” she added.

Earlier in the year, school board staff recommended the closure of Rideau High School as a way to deal with funding pressures while also improving education for students. The school is currently operating around 40 per cent capacity, and is operating out of a building that needs major renovations. The board also said merging Rideau High School and Gloucester High School, a school with French immersion that is also struggling with low enrolment, would save hundreds of thousands of dollars every year while allowing students to access more courses and services.

As it stands, a majority of high school students in the catchment area opt to attend Lisgar Collegiate or Gloucester High School for their French programs and or their gifted programs. It's estimated only about 20 per cent of eligible students in the catchment area attend Rideau High School. 

A group of students from Gloucester High School attended the meeting and said they would welcome the Rideau students with open arms. 

"We have a l;ot of programs that we can offer," said Mumin Elmi, a grade 11 student. "Gloucester is awesome!"

"If we combine, we have more opportunities for more courses and more extra curricular activites," said grade 10 student Stephane Meilleur."

Speaking after the delegations, many trustees told the committee that they felt confused and unsure of what to do about this difficult decision.

"We are closing the school with the lowest socio-economic rating in our district and I do not believe we are choosing that school for that region, but yet time and time again in our province, in our city, in our province, in North America, these are the schools that get closed," said Trustee Erica Braunovan. "I would like to see us have the courage to say we are not going to do it this time. This time it will not be this community that is going to lose its school."

"I have to balance the community hub needs with the priorities placed upon us by the province. I do not know what to do," said Trustee Mark Fisher.

Transition plans have been created in case the board votes in favour of closing Rideau High School, including transferring a majority of staff and teachers to Gloucester High School. The transition plan also includes moving many of Rideau's specialized programs and learning plans over to Gloucester.

Despite those reassurances, some trustees said they fear the move will negatively impact students at the school.

"There will be drop-outs," said Trustee Shawn Menard. "We are managing right now at that school. Students are going to College or University."

A final vote will happen in early March.