Are Even Secular Schools Sacred?


Convivium, 26 September 2019

Father Raymond de Souza wonders what spirit moves the public board of education in Brockville, Ontario to block an empty building’s sale to a private religious group.

Who does the government compete with? Is a public school a sacred building? A recent surplus building sale raises those questions.

In Brockville, the local public school board has a sold an elementary school in Wolford that it had closed in 2018. The building was surplus, no other government had a use for it, so they put it up for sale. The school board got an offer of $350,000 from Heritage Community Christian School, which it turned down because they did not want the building used for a private school. It eventually sold the building for $303,030 with a stipulation that the building could not be used for “education outside the public system” for 99 years. Violating that stipulation earns a fine of $1 million.

My Cardus colleagues Brian Dijkema and David Hunt have a column in the Brockville Record and Times that provides the details. They make the case that independent schools fulfill the government’s own mandate to provide education for all and, moreover, independent school graduates are more publicly minded citizens.

Non-compete clauses are pretty standard in the corporate world. Usually they are requested by the buyer. A buyer who buys Wrench’s Auto Service may insist on a clause that prevents Wrench or his affiliates from opening another garage within the same city. Sometimes they are requested by the seller. Perhaps Wrench owns the neighbouring lot and sells it with the stipulation that the buyer not open a competing garage on the property. 

The Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) clearly regards any private school as Wrench might regard another garage, namely, competition for customers. This is not unexpected. Those who follow education policy in Ontario know that, as the total number of students in the province falls, existing school boards are very attentive to where their students might go. 

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