An Ontario organization is protesting more than 600 possible school closures that could affect rural areas in the province, saying longer commutes for children will negatively impact their education.

The closures could result in parents being forced to put their kids on buses for hours-long commutes just to make it to school and back.

According to Susan MacKenzie, a spokesperson with the Ontario Alliance Against School Closures (OAASC), even single-school communities are “being targeted for closure.” Rural schools are under threat because they tend to be smaller. However, they are not necessarily under-enrolled, MacKenzie said.

This move, she said, could have dire consequences.

“In (Ontario’s) northern regions they’re looking at bus rides in excess of four hours a day,” MacKenzie said on CTV’s Your Morning Thursday. “And that often puts the student on the bus longer than in the classroom.”

MacKenzie added that she could “never imagine putting a seven-year-old on the bus at quarter to seven in the morning, in the dead of winter.”

Mackenzie says part of the problem is that the province’s funding formula is “equitable but it’s not fair. It doesn’t recognize the geographical circumstances in rural Ontario.”

She said the OAASC is frustrated with the provincial government’s apparent desire for one centralized K-12 school in communities.

“There is research to say that smaller schools have higher graduation rates,” MacKenzie said, adding that parents in rural areas are “not used” to the K-12 model.”

In a statement to CTV’s Your Morning, Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said population fluctuations in communities are not new, “which is why we’ve made changes to the education funding formula to significantly increase the proportion of funding not directly tied to enrollment. In fact, we are investing more in rural schools than ever before. Since 2013, annual funding for rural boards has increased by nearly $200 million or about six per cent.”

She said that the government now “ensures” that schools that are a considerable distance from the next school (10 km for elementary, 20 km for secondary) receive additional funding and support “even if they are less than full.”

On its website, the OAASC have posted an open letter calling on the Ontario ministry of education to “put a halt to the drastic policy measures that are hurting students and school communities.”

In the open letter, the group has several recommendations for the government, including rewriting a “flawed” Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline and placing a moratorium on school closures until the ministry can further study and research the impact on students.