By Julie Barlow
January 11, 2011, EMSB Commissioners voted unanimously to take Nesbitt School OFF the list of closures for 2012.
Along with a group of other parents, Julie has been fighting for the last nine months to keep her daughters’ school open. The struggle has been epic. We did interviews for TV, radio, newspapers and magazine, in English and in French, for both local and national media. We maintained a blog and a Facebook page. We lobbied commissioners. We convinced politicians of all stripes and all levels to support us. And much more.
It’s been a long and hard battle, especially since we never knew why our school was on the chopping block in the first place. Nesbitt did not fit any of the «criteria» the EMSB had established for deciding which schools to close. Nesbitt is a big, successful, thriving school with a reputed and popular French immersion program, fabulous facilities, a central location, and harmonious, diverse community. Kids become perfectly bilingual at Nesbitt. There’s almost no bullying. No school is perfect, but we feel Nesbitt is about as close as you can get.
That’s why we were fighting.
Over the course of our campaign, the “Nesbitt Action Community” – people also dubbed us “the Crazy Parents” — took a lot of flak, even from people who should have been supporting us. We were accused of being “extremists” and “aggressive.” Parents warned us that if we kept up our campaign we would “alienate” commissioners and they would vote against us. Their reaction speaks volumes about the docile parent mentality school commissions foster, then capitalize on.
We never believed it. On the contrary, we saw that «being nice» was precisely what got Nesbitt on the chopping block in the first place. Evidently, someone at the EMSB really thought they could pull this off…
So how did Nesbitt end up on the chopping block? We still don’t know. Lack of vision at the EMSB? Politicking between Commissioners? A lot of people had a lot to gain from closing Nesbitt, namely the Commissioners whose schools would receive our students.
But it doesn’t matter exactly how it happened. The fact of the matter was, everyone went along with it. Until the parents revolted.
Then, instead of admitting something amounting to an «executive decision» had been made about Nesbitt, the EMSB and its Board of Commissioners forced Nesbitt parents to spend nine months finding arguments to keep a school open, that there was no reason to close it in the first place!
All this time, the EMSB pretended it was carrying out a well-considered plan — that, despite the fact that schools that actually DID fit their «criteria for closure» somehow dropped off the list for closure, without debate…
The truth was, there was no plan, and no criteria, just a bunch of school commissioners using the façade of a a democratic process to camouflage back-room deals they were making to swap territories, and probably other favours we haven’t imagined. Among the Commissioners there were of course exceptions, but their pleas for transparency, and reason, went unheard.
Whatever was going on behind closed doors, the Nesbitt case boiled down to one thing: the EMSB was not doing its job. And Nesbit school was caught in the middle of the mess, defenceless, until parents decided to jump into the fray.
We fought. And we won. Although they hardly admitted it, the Commissioners seem to agree there was never any reason to close our school in the first place.
But victory came at the cost of a lot of strife, and a lot of sleepless nights.
We’re happy the school will remain open, but angry we were put through this ordeal.
Our question: should parents really have to go to the lengths we went to, not to save a school, but to make a school board act sensibly? It’s not even a question of accountability. It’s more basic than that. We were telling Commissioners to look at the facts about our school, then put their personal interests aside and make responsible, coherent decisions — to be logical!
Should parents really have to go to the lengths we went to, to get something as basic as common sense from a school board?
We hope our campaign will serve as a wake-up call to school boards – not parents. Parents shouldn’t have to do what we did just to make a school board do its job.