What was planned to be a simple family barbecue to celebrate the end of summer turned into an emotional rally to get Munster Public School re-opened and to raise awareness about the hundreds of families in the area who have no means of getting their children to school.
Carleton MPP Goldie Ghamari hosted her annual Community Barbecue at the Richmond Fairgrounds Saturday, Sept. 9. A crowd of close to 500 enjoyed the free burgers, hot dogs and corn served up by the Richmond Volunteer Firefighters, face painting, a bouncy castle, a petting zoo, music, entertainment by Dr. Kaboom, and even a visit from Ottawa Redblacks mascot Big Joe.
While the event is non-partisan and non-political, the crisis regarding the cancellation of local school bus routes by the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority became a rallying point for the community. The Munster Community Association had a booth set up with a petition for people to sign to have the school re-opened. A group who wanted to set up a picket line to protest the cancellation of bus routes met with Ghamari the night before the event. They were invited into the barbecue and given a booth to voice their displeasure with the OSTA, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and the Ottawa Catholic School Board for the cancellations.
When it was time for the speeches and thank yous, Ghamari had some news to share with everyone.
“Yesterday, I had a discussion with the Ottawa Catholic School Board, and they are interested in looking at Munster Elementary School,” she said, adding it was a good first step to finally getting the school re-opened.
Munster Elementary School was closed in 2015 due to low enrollment. Despite an outcry from the community, the OCDSB and Ontario’s Wynne Government would not visit requests to reconsider the closure. During the 2022 provincial election debate at the Richmond Fairgrounds Dining Hall, the school came up in a question from the floor. Ghamari said she would fight to get the school re-opened, while Liberal candidate Tom Dawson said that the school was closed at the request of the parents.
While re-opening the school would not happen in this school year, Ghamari said there is definitely interest. “With the growth in the area, the numbers appear to be there,” she said.
Munster parent Jennifer Bugden started the petition, which Ghamari will present to the Queen’s Park Legislature later this month.
“We are about 15 kilometres west of Richmond,” Bugden said. “Our elementary school kids are put on a bus, if they’re lucky to have a bus because our public school kids do not have a bus to Richmond; our Catholic school kids do.”
Bugden said her three-year-old is on the bus for 47 minutes.
“That’s a long time for anyone to sit in a vehicle,” she said.
The subject of the school has been in the forefront in the village for years. Bugden said it was time for action and to try and reopen the school.
“We have a school that is in Munster,” she said. “It’s walking distance for all the kids that live within the Munster boundaries. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board closed the school in 2015. They forced the parents who wanted their kids to go into French Immersion to go to A. Lorne Cassidy in Stittsville. Therefore, enrollment steadily dropped, and they said ‘OK we’re done.’”
Bugden said the community has been fighting every year to get the school re-opened. She learned the day before the BBQ that the city’s Catholic board was interested in doing research to see if purchasing the school was an option.
“They’re not committing to anything at this point but they’re exploring it, and it is the best news we have had for our community in years,” Bugden said. “We are a village, and having our kids together is so vital to the survival of our small community,” she said. “We are excited that Goldie is behind us and willing to bring this to Queen’s Park in a couple of weeks, and fight for us.”
While Ghamari spent a lot of time leading up to the barbecue on Munster Elementary School, she also spent a lot of time on the bussing problem.
“I met with Education Minister Stephen Lecce, and the province is going to provide $1.8 million to the school boards to assist with the pressures of transportation funding,” she said. “This is in addition to the $75 million in funding the province had already provided to the boards for transportation, which is an increase over last year.”
Osgoode parent Cheri Nixon was vocal on Facebook about the bus cancellations. She has a child who attends Canterbury High School and has been working on a carpooling arrangement with other parents.
“We need viable solutions for rural families who do not have access to OC Transpo,” Nixon said. “We need changes in the combinations to routes to maximize access by filling seats. And we need solutions for young students who cannot ride OC Transpo unsupervised.”
Nixon said she has been pushing for a solution that does not come at a financial or emotional price to local families.
“We need a solution now,” Nixon said.
Councillors David Brown and George Darouze also addressed the crowd. Both thanked Nixon and Bugden for their hard work and advocacy in the community, as well as MPP Ghamari for her work in fighting for the community on the two issues. They also thanked the many volunteers who worked behind the scenes to make the community BBQ possible.
Featured Image: Jennifer Bugden addresses the crowd at the Carleton Community BBQ, hosted by MPP Goldie Ghamari, Saturday. Bugden started a petition to re-open Munster Elementary School.