Over 200 Ontario parents sign petition opposing school closures

Over 200 parents are opposing a plan to shutter two rural Ontario elementary schools and move students from each grade into the same building.

In an online petition created by Shelby Naughton, an Ontario resident, titled “Preserve Our Rural Schools and Maintain Kindergarten to 5th Grade Structures,” 203 people have added their names as of Wednesday, May 7.

Under the plan pushed by Nikki Albisu, superintendent of the Ontario School District, students in the same grade will be in the same building instead of spread across five schools.

The plan moves over 200 students while closing Pioneer, built in 1896, and Cairo Elementary Schools, established in 1957.

Naughton, a parent with a student at Pioneer, wrote in the petition that rural schools provide children with a “nurturing environment.”

“Our rural schools are more than just educational institutions; they are integral parts of our community fabric,” Naughton wrote in the petition. 

In the petition, Naughton urges the Ontario School Board and the Oregon Department of Education to reconsider the move to grade-based schools. It doesn’t appear, according to the petition, that there is a plan to deliver it.

A petition signer, Melissa Vargas, commented that the change to grade-based schools is not “equitable or culturally responsive.” 

Vargas wrote the shift doesn’t meet the community’s needs. 

“It is an agenda that has been pushed through regardless of what is best for students, teachers and the community,” she wrote. 

One criticism of the district is that it left parents out of the decision-making process. 

Naughton told the Ontario School Board in February that the district left parents in the dark about its plans to shutter the schools and did not consider their input. Instead, administrators did it under the banner of “we know what’s best for kids.”

The board voted 4-1 then to advance the plan.

Albisu and her team have fended off criticism over a lack of transparency about the plan. The superintendent has made contradictory statements in her efforts to explain the plan.

In January, she told board members that it has been hard to be labeled as “unethical” when all she wants is “what’s best for kids.” Nonetheless, she said that she and her team had few documents supporting their work because the plan was evolving.

Naughton, citing research from the American Journal of Education, wrote that transitioning toward a grade-based model could lead to larger class sizes. She added, quoting research from the National Education Policy Center, that smaller schools such as Pioneer and Cairo provide better learning environments for students. 

Parents asked at the February meeting to see the research Albisu had cited in the past about the benefits of grade-based schools. During the meeting, Albisu said that the research shows that “there’s nothing that says it’s necessarily bad, I guess.” 

Taryn Smith, communications manager for the Ontario School District, did not immediately respond to a written list of questions about the petition. 

Naughton said Tuesday, May 14, that she will present a paper petition to the Ontario School Board during its regular meeting on Monday, May 20.

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