Erin Merkley LTE to UCDSB Closure of Benson Public School MARCH 7, 2017

March 6, 2017

Board of Trustees

Upper Canada District School Board


Dear Board of Trustees:

RE: Pupil Accommodation Review, Proposed Closure of Benson Public School

Please don’t let this happen.

NOW is the time for you to take the opportunity and represent the needs and best interests of the people who elected you. Please listen to our voices; please work to find a way to keep our school open. Please keep our kids in the community where we have chosen to raise them.

If it is, in fact, “all about the students” as I have heard multiple times during this process, then please consider the following:

  • You must see it, to believe it. It is incumbent upon each of you, as a matter of due diligence and in good conscience, when faced with a decision that will have ramifications on the social and economic fabric of our community for years to come, to observe and experience the school, the classrooms and the children this enormous decision will impact. 

Multiple invitations – zero visits. Why was this not a priority during such an important process? How can a decision be made to close a school, thereby effectively destroying a vital part of a community that is rebuilding and finally seeing economic gains, when you haven’t seen the school firsthand?  How could you possibly decide that it is in the best interest of my child to be bused to another school, in a neighbouring community, when you haven’t observed a day of his learning experience at Benson?

If you visited Benson, the quality of education would not be in question. The viability or soundness of the building would not be in question. The added educational and emotional benefits of a large green space with soccer fields, a playground, a basketball court, gardens, a baseball diamond, a hill for tobogganing and a direct view of the St. Lawrence Seaway would not be in question. The community participation, comradery, and connections with local businesses and families would not be in question. The children’s connection to their hometown would not be in question.

The school’s potential and its inherent value to all, would not be in question.


  • Why have the voices of parents/concerned community members and municipal officials been met with defense, hostility and disregard? 


With all due respect, this question is not directed at all of the trustees, and I sincerely thank those who value our voices and concerns. There are, however, a few that have been disrespectful of the presentations made at the latest Board Meeting. As an example; It is no secret that David McDonald is pro-school closures, but why were his comments, such as suggesting MPP Steve Clark was using this opportunity to speak as a political soapbox, tolerated? He also aggressively suggested to Mayor of Edwardsburgh/Cardinal, Pat Sayeau, that taxpayers should be demanding a refund on the comprehensive third-party consulting report on the negative economic impact a school closure would have in Cardinal.

It is a fact that the Pupil Accommodation Review will negatively impact community, and will go against the wishes of the majority of parents and residents in said communities. This is a community issue and an economic issue. Why, during the only opportunity for the public to voice their concerns, during a process in which our hands are otherwise tied and we’re essentially helpless, was there a need to be combative? These are our communities we’re fighting for!

Arguably, the apparent disregard for some of the hard questions brought forth during the presentations at the March 1st & 2nd Board Meetings has only reinforced our very concerns that our children are simply becoming another number. If it is permitted for some of our elected folks to take exception to our fears in a disrespectful way, doesn’t this send a message that parents and leaders won’t have a voice in this new reality?

Shouldn’t we have a voice in the education of our own children?

  • Why is it in the best interest of the students to spend more time being bused out of town to other communities rather than learning in their hometown schools?

We were given a choice, and we took it. We chose Benson for so many reasons – the first one, of course, is because it resides in the community in which we live and our child would not have to spend unnecessary time on a bus. Kids are able to walk to school, promoting a healthy lifestyle out of the gate. Parents are able to volunteer and be involved in local school activities, promoting that family and education go hand in hand, right in their own backyard.

Other reasons include the proven value of small class sizes, the sense of belonging, the community involvement, and its important heritage in our village.

Has the Ministry of Health been consulted on the effects of these positives giving way to larger class sizes, longer days, and longer bus rides? Has the emotional well-being of the students been considered? Has the research surrounding bullying on longer bus rides been studied? Have the benefits of keeping local kids close to home, during their formative years been identified? Has our local Health Unit weighed in on impact of viral outbreaks in larger schools and the associated ripple effect in the extended community?

Shouldn’t family life, health and emotional well-being of students be a factor in this decision?
As a heartbroken parent, I’m asking you to please put in the work to give our school a fighting chance. Please put a hold on this plan and give us a minimum of 5 years to grow our enrolment numbers. Rather than this extreme decision to shut us down – why not consider setting our small school up for success? Consider attracting parents and students by offering programming, such as French Immersion, that parents are seeking out.  Please consider the request from our MPP to insist that time is invested to develop a provincial rural education strategy. Please consider the offer from our Mayor to collectively come up with means of further defraying operating costs while making better use of excess space. Please further consider the social and economic impacts this will have long term. Please give us time to watch the growth of our village translate to the growth of our school.

You collectively have the power to take a stance that best serves our students. Closing our schools is not the answer.Please don’t let this happen.

If you should disagree with this stance, I have one very simple request of you. Please stop saying “it’s all about the students”, because that doesn’t feel true in any sense of the statement.

On the contrary, I beg you to realize that, sometimes, it’s not all about the money.

Erin Merkley
Benson Public School Parent
Cardinal, Ontario

Cc:         Steve Clark, MPP
Stephen Silwa, Director of Education
Mitzie Hunter, Minister of Education
Patrick Sayeau, Mayor of Edwardsburgh/Cardinal
Joe Martelle, Editor in Chief, Prescott Journal
John Bourne, Principal, Benson Public School
Heidi MacDonald, Vice Principal, Benson Public School

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  1. You folks in Cornwall haven’t seen distance travelling. Here in Ottawa there are many students who travel very long distances on school buses and OC Transpo – you don’t know what distances are. OMG! Cornwall is a small village. You all haven’t seen anything.

  2. I sure wouldn’t want to send my kids to public school these days and a good thing that we are Catholic and sent my kids to Catholic schools. Even today I wouldn’t want to send them to any school at all here in Canada. I would home school them instead. Things are much worse than what you all know about. I appreciate Pastor Newton on board and miss him when he isn’t around.

  3. Ontario is pretty well bankrupt and schools do have to close and here in Ottawa many students travel long distances to school and there are no complaints – it is the way of life here. Maybe your schools will fill up with immigrant kids from Syria and other countries and then you will complain because they cannot communicate in English nor French and disturb the classes. You haven’t seen anything

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