Parents upset by school board plan to transfer students from Guelph to Erin

Many parents of Guelph-Eramosa French immersion students are fuming over school board plans to transplant their kids from a Guelph school to several schools in Erin.

“These people have no idea how they’re devastating our lives,” Rockwood parent Rachel McClelland said of Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) officials.

McClelland’s two children are among the 40 to 50 junior kindergarten to grade 6 students from east Wellington – including Rockwood, Eden Mills and Everton – who could be removed in September from Edward Johnson Public School in Guelph and sent instead to Brisbane Public School and then on to Erin District High School for grades 7 to 12.

The board has proposed the changes due to overcrowding at Edward Johnson – its current capacity is about 280 students, while enrolment is approximately 390 – which will only get worse with the arrival of full day kindergarten students at the school in 2013.

A Dec. 13 board report says moving the east Wellington French immersion students to Brisbane, and later to Erin District High School, will “better utilize existing school capacity” in the Erin area.

“Those are schools that have space and they do offer French immersion … and they are located in east Wellington,” said board spokesperson Maggie McFadzen.

McClelland told the Advertiser it is “shocking” the board seems to be ignoring the impact the move could have on students.

“This is such a short-sighted decision on their part,” she said. “Shouldn’t the school board be putting students before numbers?”

Many parents also refute the board’s assertion that “the average travel time (approximately 60 minutes maximum) for students who reside in east Wellington is similar to Brisbane PS or Edward Johnson PS.”

Many, like Marie Zimmerman of Eden Mills, claim travel times could as much as double with the move. Yet increased time spent on the school bus is just one of many negative impacts moving the children will have, she said.

“It doesn’t take into consideration the psychological stability of our children,” said Zimmerman, who has one child who will be affected by the proposal.

She explained many parents of the affected students have after-school child care arrangements in Guelph and many students also enjoy extra curricular activities in the city.

“This will dislodge our children from their stable roots,” Zimmerman said.

She noted is worried moving children out of the community they’ve spent their entire lives in and transplanting them in Erin could increase the risk of alienation and poor attendance.

About 100 people attended an UGDSB public meeting on the boundary review on Dec. 15. Most were parents of students from the east Wellington area and many, like McClelland and Zimmerman, said if the board approves the plan they would likely pull their children out of the French immersion program and send them instead to a Guelph-Eramosa school. A few said they may even move into Guelph so their kids can remain at Edward Johnson PS.

“That’s up to the parents to decide; it’s not up to the board,” McFadzen told the Advertiser when asked about those possibilities.

But if either materializes, it could create other problems for the board, as both the Guelph school and Rockwood Centennial Public are already over capacity.

Some east Wellington parents also have concerns about the timing of the boundary review, claiming they were not given adequate notice of the plan and that the board should not be conducting the process over the Christmas holidays.

“It’s such a bad time of year to be facing this,” McClelland said, adding parents were given just until Jan. 6 to comment on the proposal. “They’re just trying to rush this through.”

McFadzen said that is not the case at all.

She explained the decision to proceed with the boundary review was made on Nov. 22 and notices were sent home with students shortly thereafter.

“We sent message home, we posted messages on our website and on the school’s website,” said McFadzen.

As for the timing, she noted the board is under “very specific constraints,” including the need to start filling staff positions – “a long and involved process” – for 2012-13 by February.

Parents counter board officials knew about those constraints all along but did not act on the boundary review until late November. Many stress they have no problem with the community of Erin, other than it is too far away and foreign for their children.

“They live and go to school in a nice community now,” said Zimmerman.

McFadzen stressed the school board will take into consideration all comments received at the Dec. 15 public meeting, as well as those received directly in writing by Jan. 6, before making a final decision.

That conflicts with the sentiments of some parents, including Zimmerman, who says transferring the students seems like “a done deal” because all three boundary review scenarios offered in UGDSB reports have the Edward Johnson students moving to Brisbane.

McFadzen, however, stressed the board has not made any decision to date. That decision is expected to come at its meeting on Jan. 24.

To comment on the boundary review or to sign up to receive UGDSB email notifications, visit