Statement on Closure of Schools in Rural Communities

Friends of Redtail Society (FRS) was born out of a realization that an all out assault on rural communities was in progress, manifested in many ways, particularly in the clear-cutting and destruction of our forests and the habitats they provide. Since its beginning in 2007, FRS has managed to save 313 acres of local forest and is now engaged in the “second step”, the “how-to” of developing and deepening a respectful relationship between humans and this land and all its Beings.

This forest-centered focus of FRS exists within a broader framework, one which seeks to promote community engagement in the health and well-being of its bioregion. To further this goal, FRS has spoken out about other areas of concern which impact rural communities, like on- shore oil and gas development, including hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), and industrial scale wind projects. This statement continues this practice.

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Photo: Direct action at River John Consolidated School, Photo River John HUB

Rural communities in Nova Scotia are experiencing not just an assault on the natural world of forests and plants and animals and on the air, water and soil. An assault of a different sort is underway as well, this time on the rural communities themselves, and on their human inhabitants, especially the little ones. In many parts of Nova Scotia today, rural children as young as four years are being bussed out of their home communities to schools in distant communities. Rural school and district consolidation policies have for many decades resulted in wide scale bussing and relocation of rural children. But recent local events point to an important and significant qualitative difference.

For the most part, bussing rural school children used to consist of gathering high school, and eventually junior high school students from reasonably close communities and depositing them in one modern, consolidated “rural” facility. Over time, as school districts became more and more consolidated, and as enrolments declined, under-utilized facilities were filled by closing smaller and more distant schools. This resulted in a substantial increase in the number of students bussed, as well as longer bus rides over greater distances.

Over many decades this practice of closing, consolidating and bussing has brought small rural communities to the place they find themselves today – being emptied of all their school aged children. Usually, in the best case scenario, the relocated children went together to a receiving school. Today, even that small comfort is not assured. Within the bioregion that is of concern to FRS, seventy plus Primary to Grade 9 students of a local school have been scattered among five or six schools outside their home community, arbitrarily chosen to accommodate the receiving schools’ student capacity.

The school closure processes forced upon communities and their various “save our school” committees have been arduous to say the least. Surely there is something dramatically wrong with attitudes, policies and regulations that govern education practices in this province. The scars of rural school closures and community decline dominate the rural landscape.

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Photo: Direct action in River John, Photo River John HUB

FRS calls upon the Government of Nova Scotia to show real and necessary leadership at this critical time in the history of our province and of our rural communities. We call for the implementation of a radically different approach to rural education and rural communities, one that reflects the interconnectedness and interdependence of both rural and urban communities, and that acknowledges the validity and value of rural life, and acts to support the health and well-being of rural communities not just for the present but for generations to come.

Centralization, globalization and urbanization have torn many services and amenities from rural communities. Rural citizens are finding innovative ways not just to live and manage but to thrive in spite of these realities. Systematically forcing the relocation of rural children from their communities tears out the very heart and soul of that community. Small rural schools, particularly at the elementary level, define and nurture the rural child’s community identity. Over countless generations this grounding in their community has led to the significant contribution and enrichment that rural citizens have brought to this province. Over time, destroying the community identity in the child, whether intended or not, will effectively destroy the whole community.

People in rural communities understand this. They continue to mount impressive resistance to the forced closure of their community schools. FRS supports and applauds their heroic efforts. If it is not visible to all now, the hindsight of time will show the deep wisdom of these actions.