By Louis Pin, St. Thomas Times-Journal
On Tuesday, Sparta Public School held their last year-end assembly for students and parents alike. The tiny rural school southeast of St. Thomas will close this week and it’s 250 students will be relocated to Port Stanley Public School in the fall.
The school closure has been a contentious issue for parents and residents of the quiet town, some who moved there to send their kids to that very school.
“I bought my home purposefully in this village because of the school,” Sarita Vandernaalt, a parent of two students, said before the assembly Tuesday. “We wanted (our kids) to be able to walk and bike to school.”
That won’t be an option now. Port Stanley is roughly 15 km from Sparta, something not lost on many of the parents who tried to stop the school from closing.
“Just the whole process (frustrated me),” said Joe Weninger, who has two students moving from Sparta Public School to Port Stanley Public School in the fall. “The way they went about doing it.”
Last spring the school board made the final decision. They announced they would turn Sparta into a single-track French Immersion school for students as old as Grade 7 in fall 2018, a year later expanding to Grade 8.
Four other schools in the region were also moved to the chopping block.
It’s a contentious issue in rural Ontario. After securing his seat in the provincial election local MPP Jeff Yurek said he wanted the new Progressive Conservative government to revisit the closure of a number of rural public and secondary schools, many which serve as important community hubs.
The issue especially hit home for local MP Karen Vecchio, who attended Sparta Public School in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Vecchio made it to the year-end assembly Tuesday in support of the students and parents still invested in the school.
“Growing up here you knew the parents, you knew the neighbours,” Vecchio said. “I respect the hard work done by the parents and teachers here.
“If you went here this is where you belong,” she added.