OHSWEKEN — For 50 of Six Nations secondary school students, the first week back to school this fall is not underway. The students of NATIONS/New Start program have not returned to the classroom, after the school lost its home back in May.
Two Row Times has learned that Principal Jeff Benner, who is also principal at Hagersville Secondary School, was informed at the end of May this year that the landlord for the building the school was renting had raised the rent and was seeking a long-term lease from the Grand Erie District School Board.
This, according to sources, was declined by the board and, as of press time, no new location for the school has been secured. Leaving the academic lives of some of Six Nations most vulnerable students, in limbo.
The NATIONS/NewStart program provides an alternative learning environment for high school students who have struggled in the traditional classroom setting. This can be due to learning challenges, health issues that have put the student behind or other life circumstances that have brought the student to a place where the traditional classroom setting is no longer the best learning environment.
The NATIONS/NewStart program settled in their former building, at 2319 Third Line, in 2019 and was celebrated by the GEDSB as a major investment in furthering alternative learning options for indigenous students from Six Nations and Mississaugas of the Credit.
Now — those students who are the most vulnerable — have yet to hear from the school board what the permanent solution is going to be for this year.
TRT has learned Six Nations Elected Council was briefed on the situation and was informed that the school would be moving to Six Nations Polytechnic. However, according to staff and students, that did not come to pass.
Neither was the elected council informed of the change or that students had not returned to any classroom this fall.
Additionally, staff were informed the board would be moving the school off the territory to a temporary home in one of the gyms at Hagersville Secondary School. Now, sources tell TRT that plan was cancelled and students were told to come to the banquet room at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena on Wednesday, September 14.
Staff with the school say they are frustrated with the school board and for letting this problem fester for as long as it has, leaving students suffering the consequences and missing out on time in the classroom.
The current temporary space at the ILA banquet room could technically accommodate the 50 students currently registered at NATIONS/New Start but staff have been given no time to set up classroom space for their students and say there are no learning tools— no internet, no computers, no desks or other implements needed by the students in the program ready for them to start classes on Wednesday.
In addition, no buses have been arranged to transport students to the new temporary location. That is a process that could take quite some time to organize, and students and their families still have no answers as to what that will look like.
TRT reached out to NATIONS/New Start Principal Jeff Benner who confirmed the students would be invited to attend school at the ILA Banquet Hall on Wednesday, September 14 but said he could not speak to TRT on any of the other questions or concerns raised by the community — instead directing all questions to the Communications Director for Grand Erie District School Board, Dave Smouter.
Smouter did not return our request for comment.
TRT also reached out to Robin Staats, Principal Leader for Indigenous Education and Equity within GEDSB. Staats said she was not aware of the particulars of the situation, did not know who the principal of the NATIONS/NewStart program was and declined to offer comment.