Across Canada, high school students are feeling the brunt of government austerity measures. Their schools are being closed; a process known as ‘closure for consolidation’. In Peterborough, these destructive and anti-student measures were experienced by Lakefield District Secondary School students in September when they were forced to consolidate into Thomas a Stewart Secondary.
In May of 2015, Peterborough public school board administrators recommended that Lakefield Secondary close and students be consolidated into Thomas a. Stewart (TASS) in the Long-Term Accommodation Plan report released by the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (KPRDSB), in this document, several schools were slated to be closed, but in March of this year, the school board succeeded in their efforts, and students left the school for the last time to be later consolidated into TASS.
The most disconcerting aspect of this closure was just how aware the school board was of the negative implications this meant for students who attended LDSS. The school board completely ignored the concerns of teachers, indigenous students, and TASS students regarding the closure and consolidation of their schools. During a consultation meeting, a community archivist from the Curve Lake Cultural Center said to applause, “Our students don’t want to go to a new school. They will be lost … when they are here, we know where they are and that they are safe”.
TASS has now been through 2 consolidation processes in an attempt to fill its halls with as many students as possible, even more schools are planned for closure within the next few years that will most likely be consolidated into TASS as well. Prior to the consolidation of LDSS we saw the closure of Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School (PCVS). In 2011, the board voted to close the school, and in 2012 they succeeded with PCVS students scheduled to move into TASS the following school year. Since then, complaints of overcrowding, underfunding, understaffing, and an array of other similar issues have been prominent among students.
“Over the course of my four years at TASS I’ve been witness to not only the LDSS transfer but also the end of the PCVS one as well, and quite frankly it’s almost the same scenario but on a larger scale. The class sizes are larger, staff have more students to attend to making it almost impossible to get help, […] While there’s no major culture clash like there was when PCVS moved, and continued up until the remaining students graduated, there’s still substantial tension between the TASS students and the Lakefield students.”
TASS touts their higher enrollment numbers, but what does this actually mean? ‘Higher enrollment’ simply lines pockets, no matter how higher enrollment numbers as a result of closure/consolidation actually effect the quality of education. Increased enrollment has meant many students were completely unable to access the guidance department for weeks following the start of the new school year. Students, particularly in the arts department, claim that their classes lack funding, and many ex-LDSS teachers are currently filling positions that they aren’t used too, and as a result both the teacher and students suffer. This also puts tremendous strain on teachers already at TASS, who must now accommodate upwards of 35+ students in a single classroom. These are issues TASS has struggled with since the consolidation of PCVS students and the adoption of the integrated arts program, which has since seen a massive decline in enrollment as it further suffers from cutbacks.
“I was particularly excited to hear about the integrated arts program at PCVS, there was such a sense of inclusion. I moved to Peterborough with the intent to attend PCVS, and actually had to end up paying for my own bus pass when the program moved to TASS.”
Thus, with the move we see costs for transportation being offloaded onto students typically from the working class core neighborhoods of Peterborough and from the reservations and far flung rural communities previously served by PCVS and LDSS. The consolidation of two distinct student communities into a single school has also brought about what has been termed a ‘culture clash’, in reality this is just is the abdication of responsibility to create anti-oppressive spaces that protect racialized, LGBTQIA2S, and indigenous students. This can be seen in the way students describe the relations among students after the PCVS closure.
“There was definitely anger between PCVS and TASS students. One time at an assembly we were all watching a slideshow of door decorations for this annual contest, there was a door dressed up in PCVS logos and shirts, as soon as it came up on the projector a section of the audience began cheering, and another began booing, a couple boys behind me yelled out homophobic slurs, It was scary but also infuriating. Similar things used to happen to people who wore PCVS sweaters and shirts, friends of mine were harassed with slurs, one time TASS students sprayed axe deodorant over a popular lunch location for integrated arts students, at the time the administration did nothing about it, even when we came forward.”
This systematic and widespread violence is typical given the rhetoric we see daily. Despite what the school board and administration says about trying to foster harmony, we can see their profit over people priorities in their actions. If we look across Canada it is always working class schools like PCVS and schools serving indigenous communities like LDSS that are on the chopping block with the added funds being used not to support these students but rather support an ever growing board office and pad the personal projects of administrators.
The Revolutionary Student Movement – Peterborough would like to invite students of Thomas a Stewart and past students of Lakefield District Secondary School to attend the November 2nd Day of Action against tuition fees at Trent University. Our struggles are connected to the fight against austerity measures that seek to undermine our education. No organization in English Canada is currently taking seriously the task of mobilizing with high school students. The RSM seeks a fundamental transformation of high school education be to be democratic and anti-colonial, making it accessible for all working class and oppressed students. As we begin mobilizing across the province against school closures, we believe the only strategy that can keep our schools open and eliminate tuition fees is to strike, following the Quebec path of militant organization that has resulted in the province having the most accessible and student focused education in the country.
Towards a Student Strike in English Canada!
Towards, Democratic, Anti-Colonial, and Accessible Education!
Solidarity with LDSS and TAS Students Facing Austerity!