By Lynn Macnab 

Under the watchful eye of a dozen police officers, close to 600 concerned citizens overflowed a second meeting held by the Upper Canada District School Board about potential school closures on November 14 in Cornwall.

Most were concerned abouy 29 potential school closures planned by the UCDSB after a board review of its facilities. Two of the schools in question are GDHS (Glengarry District High School) in Alexandria and Char-Lan District High School in Williamstown.

The schools are in a primarily agricultural area, which members of the Glengarry Federation of Agriculture concerned. “Farming is the number one industry in Glengarry,” said Martin Lang, representing the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). “There are over 500 farm families and small communities that will suffer,” he said. Lang is a former dairy farmer, now cash cropper from Williamstown, as well as a 4H leader, volunteer firefighter and father whose children attended Char-Lan. “One out of every eight Canadian jobs is agriculturally related. We need these kids to stick around,” said Lang. “That won’t happen if we send them off to mega schools.”

He said sending kids to schools too far away will have a negative effect on agricultural communities. “Farming is a long term apprenticeship,” he said. “We need kids to have time to work on the farm, learn about agriculture and stay in our small communities. That won’t happen if they’re on the bus for hours, spending less time with their parents and not as much time on the farm.”

Lang drew a standing ovation when he said  the board had valued each student at $12,500 and argued the closure are all about money. “Who’s going to replace me as a farmer or volunteer firefighter if they’re all gone away?”

Mary Jane O’Shea grew up on a dairy farm near Glen Norman, is married to a local fireman, attended GDHS, played hockey, soccer and broomball in Alexandria, and is expecting her first child.  She now commutes to Cornwall for work. “I don’t want my kid going to school in Cornwall. I know what it’s like there. I want my child in a smaller school close to home,” she said.

Jeff and Trish Dorn and their daughter Donalee, a grade 11 student at GDHS, attended the meeting. The family of five, including children MacKenzie and Caleb who recently graduated from GDHS, moved to the Dalkeith area from Montreal many years ago to live in a small town atmosphere.“We would never have come here if there was no school,” said Dorn, who helped bring back football back to GDHS and then went on to be head coach for several years.

Dorn works at CTV in Ottawa and Trish still travels to Montreal for work. They left Dalkeith a while ago and have recently purchased a home in Alexandria.“Our property values are expected to drop 20 per cent because of these closures,” said Trish Dorn, after listening to North Glengarry councilor Jeff Manley speak about the devastating effect it will have on the area, including an annual $5 million loss to the community. “Who wants to move here if there’s no school?”