Researchers seek stories from public

Originally posted on The London Free Press:

By Kelly Pedro
April 1, 2014

Two Southwestern Ontario researchers are studying how one of the most divisive issues of the day — school closings — are affecting communities across Ontario.

The university researchers in London and Waterloo have launched a website to collect stories about school closings. They’re also looking at the provincial policy that’s led to schools being shuttered.

“What I’d like to see is the unintended consequences of the policy,” said Bill Irwin, a economics and business professor at Huron University College in London. “I don’t think the policy was created so that neighbourhoods and communities would suffer, but that seems to be what’s happening.”

Across Ontario, hundreds of schools have been closed or merged in the last decade or so, often with new ones built, the fallout of declining enrolment and shifting population.

Irwin is working with Mark Seasons, an urban planning professor at the University of Waterloo.

There’s not enough forethought in the policy pieces, said Irwin, pointing to two different Ontario policies — one that encourages inner-city growth, another that closes inner-city schools — as hampering urban revitalization.

“It (the policy) is just not working,” he said.

The research will look at the role of public participation in the decisions school boards make when schools are thrust under reviews that can lead to closings.

So-called accommodation review committees make recommendations about whether low-enrolment schools should close, but board trustees have final say.

Irwin said the research will include how institutions talk to communities about potential school closings.