Eden H.S. has nothing to do with NDSS closing

Update: First and foremost, lest there be any misunderstanding. I DO NOT want Niagara District Secondary School (NDSS) to close. I believe there are ways it can stay open, ways the community is trying to implement, but running out of time to do so.

However, I don’t know how many times I have e-mailed Christina Blizzard at the Toronto Sun that the fact Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) students attend Eden High School in St. Catharines has nothing whatsoever to do with the low enrollment problem and closing of NDSS. Yet, today she is at it again writing an article titled “The Revenge of the Faith-based Schools.

I usually have a lot of respect for Blizzard but she is totally wrong on this one and always has been because she obviously doesn’t know the long-term Eden history. Here is some of that history:

  • Some twenty-three years ago, before Eden was incorporated into the public system, I taught there. At that time it was located in NOTL as well, almost directly across the road from NDSS on Highway 55 (now called Niagara Stone Road). Eden didn’t affect NDSS enrollment then and it doesn’t affect it now because the students who attended Eden have not, historically, ever been interested in attending NDSS.
  • When the decision was made by the Ontario Mennonite Brethren Conference to join the public system around 1987, a meeting family members attended, an agreement was signed that included an Eden Advisory Board – a Board that is still very much in place. 

Meaning, the decision did not happen since the 2007 Ontario election and has nothing to do with John Tory and the campaign issue that was so controversial regarding faith-based schools. So, for Blizzard to link the two issues together is not only wrong but dishonest.

Another not so well know fact. At the time Eden was looking for a public school home, the NDSS community was asked if Eden could use one of their empty wings. That request all but seems forgotten now but the parent groups said they didn’t want any part of it and rejected the request.

So, now what? Eden has had to move a couple of times and is now sharing space with Lakeport High School, which will also have to close soon due to declining enrollment. But, that closing has nothing to do with Eden either.

Over a year ago, Blizzard fell for the line that it was the free busing taking students from NOTL communities to the St. Catharines school that was causing the problem. So, the District Board of Niagara cancelled that busing. Did it make any difference? No it did not. My granddaughter, who attends Eden, car pools with a few of her friends – as do a lot of other students.

Eden has over 750 kids. It is very academically and athletically oriented. As such, there is a huge waiting list and the children of Mennonites are only a small percentage of total enrollment.  Meaning, the 170 Eden students from NOTL are just a drop in the bucket.

Yet, what Blizzard and other NDSS supporters won’t recognize is that even if all 170 of them were told they couldn’t attend Eden any more, they would NOT, I repeat NOT necessarily attend NDSS.

Why? For a lot of reasons. Most would attend Catholic high schools in St. Catharines or Niagara Falls or private faith-based high schools in the vicinity, but few, if any, would go to NDSS.

There has long been animosity by those involved with NDSS against Eden, even when it was private. I taught visual art and had a great relationship with the NDSS art teacher, so we did many things together. But, that was not typical.

Look, I live a couple of miles from NDSS. I don’t want to see it close anymore than anyone else. I feel it is short-sighted and reduces options for the future. I would rather see the DSBN built a new appropriately sized high school.

But, please, people, stop blaming the NDSS closure on Eden. Yes, it is a publicly funded faith-based school, but it was allowed to be that a very long time ago, during the Peterson-Rae coalition days back in the mid 1980′s. You can’t rewrite history now just because John Tory campaigned on that topic in 2007.

Oh, and one more thing, Eden’s teachers are all members of OSSTF, the secondary teachers’ union. Meaning, that unions had or have nothing to fear about publicly funded alternative schools. And, during the school day those teachers simply teach the standard Ontario high school curriculum.

We are one month from the closing of NDSS and the same old arguments are being bandied about. You’re riding a hobby horse that’s not going anywhere.  Yes, by all means, everyone should pressure the Education Minister to keep NDSS open but, for heavens sake, stop the whining about Eden.

4 thoughts on “Eden H.S. has nothing to do with NDSS closing

  1. This just shows that when someone wants something badly enough – in this case to keep Eden open – they can find a way to rationalize it!
    The real issue is school choice and competitiveness. Eden has a waiting list because of the accurate perception that it is a great school. If the public high school closer to home had a good reputation for discipline, academics and athletics parents would not be car-pooling to another town.
    Associated Hebrew Schools opened in downtown Toronto in 1907 and has been lobbying for funding ever since Catholic high schools were granted full funding by Premier Davis in 1984(only Catholic elementary schools are guaranteed funding in our Constitution). Why the special treatment for Eden?
    Many voters are uncomfortable with government funding for faith-based schools but would like to see the general curriculum taught. Why not follow Quebec’s model – government funding for the general studies (60% of the cost of public schools) while the parent foot the bill for the religious and cultural studies?

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  2. Gila – Eden is not actually a faith-based school as is a Catholic school. Catholic schools are allowed to offer chapel and religion classes during the day. Eden cannot. In fact, Eden has the very same curriculum that any public high school does. Chapel is early in the morning before the formal day starts.

    There is no justification here to keep Eden open? It stays open because it is a very popular school and the DSBN makes a lot of money from the grants it receives for 750 students! And, a couple of hundred unionized teachers have jobs!

    No, the justification is keeping NDSS open. As I said, Eden has nothing to do with the low enrollment problem there. The problem is that Niagara-on-the-Lake is not getting enough young families moving here to keep the high school open. Too many of us retirees, with our families all grown up. Even when they look at the numbers of the elementary school that is to be built over the next year, combining two low enrollment schools, there won’t be enough when the young children are ready for high school. Similarly, Eden will gradually get fewer and fewer youth from NOTL attending the school as well, which will open up more spaces for those on the waiting list.

    Eden is simply a public alternative school and, unlike Catholic schools, there is no special treatment. To suggest there is, is to misunderstand how the school is set up. In fact, Eden staff are not allowed to discuss anything of a spiritual nature during the regular school day and teachers are placed in Eden by the public board. The bottom line, however, is as I said in my post, a contract was signed twenty-three years ago and if the board broke it, the parents would simply open a private school again — with their own teachers. So, many people benefit the way it is now.

    Hebrew schools, as far as I understand, would be Hebrew schools all day long. That simply is not the case with Eden.

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  3. Hmm… Looks like more rationalizing to me. There are definitely some Chrisitan, Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim schools who would settle for a publicly funded general studies from 9-3pm with prayers before and some religious studies funded by the parents before or after regular school hours. This in not available so what is special about Eden that they got this sweet deal? Why is there a fully funded Christian elementary school in Penetanguishe while tens of thousands of other Christian school students receive no funding?
    Ontario has 5 Ukrainian Catholic schools (all SW of Toronto) under Catholic school boards. The Constitution guarantees funding for Roman Catholics not Ukrainian/Byzantine but since the Ukrainians recognize the Vatican as their religious authority they are accepted into the Catholic system. BUT, shouldn’t they attend the funded Roman Catholic schools in order to get funding? Why the sweet deal for them – there own schools teaching their branch of Catholicism – while other religions are shut out of public funding (including other branches of Catholicism)?

    If our excuse for separate Catholic schools is the Constitution and our provincial leaders refuse to address what the UN judicial committee ruled as discrimination in Ontario, then we should follow the Constitutional decree to the penny: funding for Roman Catholics and only until grade 9. All extensions of this are wonderful, and believe me I support funding for all types of schools, but have to include everyone or no one.

    More school choices create better schools due to the competition – unfortunately this issue is about power and votes, not about providing the best education possible.

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  4. Gila — You say, “More school choices create better schools due to the competition – unfortunately this issue is about power and votes, not about providing the best education possible.”

    I am afraid you have lost me as I am not sure what I am supposed to be debating here. My post is not debating the pros and cons of faith-based funding. The Ontario electorate voted against that in October 2007.

    However, the fact Eden was grandfathered is because the public board at the time, signed a contract. Contracts can’t simply be broken twenty-three years later. There are actually several other examples throughout Ontario like Eden if you carefully search the issue. But, I have no intention of fighting that battle here. In other words, I have no axe to grind on that topic.

    No, what I was talking about was only one issue — that Eden has nothing to do with a specific public high school closing. So, let’s stick to that topic, a topic that quite frankly, only those who live in Niagara area really have a grasp of how divisive it has become.

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