Both the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun reported on Rawlson King, President of the Overbrook Community Association, telling the Ottawa Carleton District School Board trustees that the closure of Rideau High School would be “an act of systemic racism”. I also told the same message to CFRA on its weekend morning news program.
Below are my remarks prepared on behalf of the Overbrook Community Association for the February 15 trustee meeting. Check against delivery.
"If Rideau High School closes, we will consider it an act of systemic racism towards our community. Systemic racism occurs when institutions discriminate, either deliberately or indirectly, against certain groups of people. The youth that will disproportionately suffer from this school closing include children of refugees, people of colour and Indigenous children. Poor people will also suffer. Over half of Overbrook’s children in social housing live below the poverty line. Since secondary school dropout rates are higher in Overbrook and Castle Heights than in other parts of Ottawa, quality local education is absolutely essential. In order to improve the educational outcomes of youth in our community, and to increase both their life skills and opportunities, the Overbrook Community Association unequivocally believes that we need to keep Rideau High School open.
"The student population that is served at the school is the most vulnerable in the City. Many students require additional support. That’s why community partners joined together in 2009 when Rideau High School was first threatened with closure. Since that time, those partners, in conjunction with the school’s staff have built a functioning “community hub” based on a “culture of care” that reflects the neighbourhood’s diversity. All of this is threatened by the proposed closure. This is why we consider closure an affront to all the hard work undertaken by many in our community.
"We believe the criteria being used to justified closure is flawed. We know that smaller class sizes benefit those with more needs in the classroom and we know that smaller class sizes benefit those learning English as their second language. We also know that feeder schools and changing neighbourhood demographics have not been considered.
"But most disconcerting to us are reports in the media claiming that staff have already developed a transition plan ahead of the closure decision. For us, this raises fundamental issues of procedural fairness. If media reports are accurate and the Board is already behaving as though the decision has been made, such pro forma behaviour, contravenes our rights, as affected parties, to be given an opportunity to be meaningfully consulted before a closure decision is made. This arguably could invalid this entire process in the eyes of the courts and make this process subject to judicial review.
"In light of this consideration, we ask that the Board formally reconsider this entire process to ensure its fairness. Ultimately, however, we ask the Board to make the right choice, and keep Rideau High open, for the benefit of both our youth and the community."