Closure of Regina's Cornwall Alternative School is in 'best interest of these kids,' Education Minister says

Cornwall Alternative School may be shutting its doors this summer after its funding was cut in the 2019-2020 provincial budget.

The school, which currently has 40 students, offers holistic and traditional learning for at-risk and disadvantaged youth who weren't able to do well in the regular school division. 

Prior to the budget's release last week, Cornwall had been scheduled to receive $761,000 from the province in 2019-2020. That was reduced to $0 in the budget.

A rally was held outside Cornwall Alternative School on Monday to show support. Some had personal experience with the school.

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Montana Rejc started at Cornwall Alternative School because she was having trouble in the regular system.

"I was a really troubled youth," she said.

"They helped me with my depression and helped me fit in here as I got kicked out of school lots," Rajc said. "And never gave up on me when I felt like giving up on myself."

"I got pregnant when I was going here at 16 and I thought they would just judge me but they never did."

Rejc said they supported her through the pregnancy and she graduated with her Grade 10. Rejc is currently working on her Grade 11 at Scott Collegiate.

"I wouldn't be the person I am today if it was not for them," Rejc said.

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Emma-lee Ritco started at Cornwall in April 2017 after her counsellor suggested coming to the school. She said she was able to get through her mental health issues.

"They give you leadership skills and they teach you everything you need to know in life," she said.

Now, Ritco is also at Scott Collegiate to finish her Grade 11 and hopes to get her Grade 12 and go to University.

She said the transition from the small school to the large one was difficult but it was easier because of the Cornwall Outreach worker.

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"They are very well at making sure even if you don't attend here now, they're still very well at making sure you're going to school and doing your best."

"I was very devastated. I was crying," she said when she heard the news.

"Everyone who is here now and in the future should be able to come here," she said. "It's very saddening that they're trying to close us down when it's a beautiful school and everyone here knows that there is caring and someone is there for them."

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"When I came here, I felt lost," former student Cory Thorne said. "They actually cared. When I didn't come to school they actually found me."

"Just the welcoming nature of school made me want to be here," he said. "Just made me want to finish school. I'm in university now."

Thorne's daughter now attends Cornwall Alternative School. He said for him it's generational.

"I was mad," he said when he heard about the funding. "My daughter cried."

"Don't close it."

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Eunice Cameron said she bawled when she heard the news.

"It's devastating," said Cameron, who was the principal at Cornwall for 17 years before retiring.  

She's currently a board member for the school. The students and school are still close to her heart, she said.  

Cornwall is different than other schools, Cameron said, because staff work individually with students instead of teaching an entire class at once. They also offer parenting programming in the evening, she said.

"Those kids are part of my life," she said. "It's a small school, the kids feel good, that's where they're going to thrive."

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Cameron said she isn't sure if the other systems can give the students the skills they need for the future.

"We're succeeding with these kids. We're saving their lives to be honest," she said. "If I knew they would be fine in the public or separate, I wouldn't be standing here. But I don't have that gut feeling."

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The school needs $700,000 to stay open, Cameron said. It does some fundraising and is sponsored by the United Way, but will need more now thanks to the cut.

"I believe in being positive," she said. "I want to find ways of keeping us going because I know there [are] ways."

Minister says decision is in 'best interest of these kids'

Education Minister Gord Wyant said the decision to cut Cornwall's funding was made after consulting with the school divisions. He said there are professionals that can provide services in other schools. 

"When this school was first established, we didn't have the kinds of supports in our schools that we have now," Wyant said. 

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Wyant said there will be money for the school divisions to integrate these students. 

"Certainly this wasn't a decision that was made based on money, this was a decision that was made based on what we thought was in the best interest of these kids," he said. 

The public school system will have opportunities for the kids to enroll, a statement from Regina Public Schools said.

Decision should be be reversed, say NDP

"This is a program that has been successful for 45 years," NDP education critic Carla Beck said.

Beck said the decision defies belief and should be reversed. 

"These are kids that already are at Cornwall Alterative School because they had difficulty within the mainstream schooling system," she said.

"This will be a situation where you have 40 students with intense and complex needs being reintegrated back into the public and Catholic system without adequate supports."