On February 1st a public meeting about the proposed closure of 5 PEI schools was held at Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown. RSM-UPEI chairperson Nova spoke at the meeting, highlighted that these closures are an attack on working class communities and, in the case of closing St Jean Elementary, they are a step toward gentrifying the midtown area. This is a video of the speech from RSM-UPEI, and the following is a transcript:
“Good evening. My name is Nova Arsenault and I’m the chairperson of the UPEI chapter of the Revolutionary Student Movement. We are an anticapitalist organization for youth and students with chapters from coast to coast. We oppose the proposed closures because we believe they amount to an attack on working class communities and, in particular, the children in those communities. I’ll explain in what way this issue affects the working class as a whole.
In order for people as workers to get decent jobs with livable wages, to make healthy decisions in life, and ultimately to liberate their class from capitalist exploitation, education is of utmost importance. This education must be as cheap as possible — preferably free of charge, it must be accessible to all, and it must be thorough and accurate. Schools must also provide programs for children with special needs, and services that benefit the community as a whole. In the case of St. Jean Elementary specifically, we have that. Contrary to what the government-appointed school board has said, an average class size of 17-18 students is not “underutilization”, it is an adequate class size that provides students an opportunity for one-on-one time with their teachers. Operating at 100% capacity should never be the goal, as any influx of new students — refugee students or new immigrants — would abruptly overcrowd the school and put unnecessary stress on both students and teachers. Closing a school like St. Jean that provides services for autistic children, math and literacy programs, and houses a dental clinic*, would also overburden other local establishments that provide these services, and would leave people scrambling to claim their place in line at another establishment. Affordability and the cost of travel would also become a major issue for families who have to travel longer distances to take their children to school, or for those who may have to relocate to make transportation easier. This would impact poor working class families and rural residents the hardest.
In terms of the capitalist exploitation of entire communities, the closure of St. Jean in particular is just one more step in the process of gentrification of the midtown area. For those who are unfamiliar with the term gentrification, Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” In simpler terms; when people with money come in, poorer people tend to get pushed out. We can see that this process has already begun: the construction of pricey condominiums on Passmore street and the block surrounding it, and the closure of the Co-Op grocery store just a few blocks north are early factors of making this area unsuitable for poorer people. The next major obstacle to the gentrification of this area is St. Jean Elementary. Now, I have no ties with any local political parties, businesses, or developers. I have no insider information on this issue of gentrification. But to paraphrase Bob Dylan who I’m sure you’re all familiar with, “I don’t need to be Boomer Gallant to know which way the wind is blowing.” The wind of capitalism is blowing the downtown petty-bourgeois development northward into midtown, and we need to brace ourselves for the storm of capitalism that will follow if these closures happen.
Now, my recommendations to the board would be a reinvestigation of capacity and zoning issues, taking into account very carefully the zoning-related and capacity-related recommendations of the other speakers today, and also to not close any of the schools most importantly.
My recommendations to the public are that these closures absolutely must be stopped, and if we band together we can stop them. If the closures go ahead, the Revolutionary Student Movement intends to organize students at UPEI, high school students across the province, workers, parents, and the affected communities at large, to march to the PEI Public Schools Branch and make our demands heard as loudly as possible if they proceed with these closures.
And I leave you with three basic principles:
Education before greed;
People before profit;
And the interests of the children before the interests of the government!
*the part about the dental clinic is out of date, the dental clinic was removed and the office is now used by CHANCES.