By Mike Williscraft
Parents, students, teachers and concerned citizens crowded into South Lincoln High School’s gymnasium to take in the start of a process which could culminate in the closure of the long-time Smithville institution.
District School Board of Niagara hosted its first of three planned Accommodation Review Committee meetings which will gather public input on a staff report which suggests closing the high schools in Smithville, Grimsby and Beamsville in favour of building one super school.
While the meeting was announced as starting at 6 p.m., the public input portion did not start until after 8 p.m. The evening actually started with members of the ARC committee taking a tour of the facility. Then the committee’s business portion of its agenda was conducted. Then the public was permitted to speak.
And speak they did.
Concerns of long bus rides, proposed speed of transition, availability of courses and extra-curricular activities and a host of other issues have placed all involved with South Lincoln in a “fog”, said Jeff Whattam.
“I appreciate that this is a concrete building, but it is the spirit of South Lincoln that lives here,” Whattam told the committee.
Noting SLHS is the newest of the three facilities which could close, Whatham said stories in the community have not done the institution any favours.
“The rumour has been around Smithville for six years that South Lincoln was going to close,” he said.
The result of that uncertainty has pushed many kids to other schools, noting Grade 9 kids who want to play football do so, but on a senior team.
While the justification for looking into possible closures has been declining enrollment, a common tone to many of the comments was that the DSBN had not done enough to stem the tide – or try – of students opting to attend other schools, particularly Blessed Trinity in Grimsby.
One parent, who noted he attended Grimsby Secondary School when the student population was over 1,000, said if his child wanted to attend Grimsby now because of class was available there which was not at SLHS, he would not be allowed to do so.
“There are a lot of kids going to BT who are not Catholic but they go because they hear the rumours South Lincoln is going to close,” said the parent.
“If my child wants to go to GSS I’m told ‘no’, there are no busses. But for BT, sure, bussing is no problem.”
He said if a super school is built, DSBN should plan for many students to return to the public system when they account for their numbers, so a new facility is not overcrowded right off the bat.
With a final report expected in March, the ARC process will continue Thursday, Dec. 15 at Beamsville District Secondary School with the second meeting, to start at 6 p.m.
The third and final session is set for Grimsby Secondary Thursday, Jan. 26, also to start at 6 p.m.