Communities left behind? A timely examination of school closure controversies
for justice-informed decision-making on the fate of public schools in Ontario


Patricia Collins
Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Planning, Queen’s University


Wayne Caldwell
Professor, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph

Regan Zink
PhD Student, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph


Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Insight Grant

executive summary

Public schools are essential for complete and liveable communities. And yet, they are being permanently closed across the country. Urban inner-city and rural settings have been disproportionately targeted for school closures in Ontario; a trend that has important implications for socio-spatial equity and environmental justice. Directing closure decisions in Ontario are the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) Pupil Accommodation Review guidelines, which mandate that school boards assess the potential impacts of closures on two domains: student learning opportunities and boards’ budgets. Meanwhile, the guidelines preclude boards from weighing the consequences of closures on surrounding communities, despite pleas from local stakeholders for more comprehensive analyses. Recognizing that the current approach is flawed and needs revamping, the MoE announced a moratorium on school closures in June 2017. This moratorium offers a critical opportunity to examine the shortcomings and consequences of the current approach, so that a more collaborative and comprehensive decision-making model can be developed and adopted.

The study will culminate with a set of evidence-based guidelines for school closure decisions in Ontario that are inclusive and collaborative, that consider the potential benefits and harms to community liveability, and that result in fair and equitable decisions about the location of public schools. Conceived by a multi-stakeholder network of school boards, municipal governments, community leaders, and provincial policy-makers, our goal is to ensure these guidelines are ready for use by the study’s conclusion.

Investigators for this project include: Patricia Collins (Principal Investigator, Queen’s), Mark Seasons (Waterloo), Jennifer Dean (Waterloo), Wayne Caldwell (Guelph), Bill Irwin (Western), Jeff Masuda (Victoria).

The University of Guelph team was involved in hosting a series of workshops for this research project in late 2023. The workshops were designed to share research findings, gain perspectives regarding key inputs to inform future decisions about school closures, and deliberatively conceptualize an improved decision-making model.

If you have questions about this project, please contact the principal investigator Dr. Patricia Collins at