Good news for NDSS

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

After months of discussion and some changes requested by councillors Tuesday, a petition to the Ministry of Education asking for a right-sized high school for Niagara-on-the-Lake has been approved by council.

Councillor Jack Lowrey was the only politician to oppose the final draft, citing lack of support from the Catholic school board and the Eden Advisory Board.

Councillor Gary Zalepa Jr., the chair of the committee charged with preparing a brief for the province, told fellow councillors he believed all references to Eden that might have a negative connotation and that couldn't be substantiated had been removed from the 34-page report, which along with supporting documents filled a milk crate, he said.

Representing the Eden Advisory Board, Kevin Ruddle told council the Eden community could not accept the document. He asked for some corrections and that entire sections referring to Eden, including one full page, be removed. The information referred to policies regarding siblings attending alternate programs, busing, the history of Eden and the process of the NDSS accommodation review.

"The Strategic Committee's chairman had informed me that all negative references to Eden's Advisory Board would be removed. This has not happened. . . it still suggests that Eden and its boards (advisory and parent) have not been willing to communicate the rationale, or that we operate with less than integrity," said Ruddle.

"The committee doesn't seem to understand that if they are successful in obtaining a new school, they will not attract the students that are attending Eden, as they attend for the alternate program."

NDSS supporters urged council to accept the report, noting the tight time-line, the years of discussion since the accommodation review and the frustration with criticism.

"The brief is in no way an attack on Eden," said NDSS supporter Joanne Hicks. "Do not be side-tracked by seemingly contentions issues. Let's not let the brief be derailed by opinions and rhetoric. This is, after all, the NDSS brief, not the Eden brief."

All information pertaining to Eden had been substantiated, and references to its advisory board included only when documents referenced the board itself, Zalepa said.

Lord Mayor Gary Burroughs read to council a letter from the Catholic school board which also criticized the brief and petition, asking it not be endorsed by council and saying it continued to draw the Catholic board into a discussion it had not been part of "nor wishes to be."

While the report did not specifically target the Catholic board, director John Crocco said it inferred and made assumptions and recommendations that included the Catholic board. He wanted those inferences removed.

At the suggestion of Councillor Andrea Kaiser, council clarified the brief by adding the word 'public' in several references to eliminate any inference that it was including Catholic schools, their families or students.

In urging councillors to accept the brief, Zalepa said that although the committee had worked with stakeholders to present a document all could support, compromise on every single detail was impossible.

"We're just trying to declare the facts."

If the town is successful in having a modern, right-sized facility and attracts some of the students from groups opposing the brief, "that's too bad," he said.

Lord Mayor Gary Burroughs praised the report and the work of the committee, and said the next step is up to MPP Kim Craitor and the Ministry of Education.

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