Im­pend­ing school clo­sure draws op­po­si­tion

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERRY ROBERTS THE COM­PASS

Those op­posed to the im­pend­ing clo­sure of Whit­bourne Ele­men­tary be­lieve they can con­vince a judge to re­verse the de­ci­sion of the East­ern School District.

“We think we have a very good chance,” par­ent Tony Young told the me­dia last week. “We have a lot of in­for­ma­tion and a vi­able ar­gu­ment to make.”

Pare n t s , com­mu­nity and busi­ness lead­ers in the Whit­bourne- Mark­land area have com­bined their re­sources to hire a St. John’s law firm to file an ap­pli­ca­tion for a ju­di­cial re­view of the de­ci­sion.

The Kinder­garten to Grade 6 school is slated to close at the end of this school year, and the un­der80 stu­dents are to be bused to Wood­land Ele­men­tary in Dildo. The dis­tance be­tween the two com­mu­nuities is un­der 20 kilo­me­tres, but par­ents ar­gue that some stu­dents may be on a bus for up to an hour.

Op­po­nents of the clo­sure have ar­gued that Whit­bourne is a grow­ing, mod­ern com­mu­nity, and the school is vi­able.

They took their mes­sage to the House of As­sem­bly on March 13, where they gave area MHA Felix Collins a dress­ing down in the lobby.

The par­ents said they feel they weren’t treated fairly, and feel court ac­tion is their last re­sort.

“Our com­mu­nity is grow­ing; there will be more stu­dents,” said Har­riet Rees, one of the peo­ple from Whit­bourne.

“So why are you putting our chil­dren in an older build­ing, and have them on the road? Give us the rea­son. And I don’t think that’s too much for par­ents — or stake­hold­ers — to ask.”

Lib­eral MHA Jim Ben­nett raised the is­sue dur­ing ques­tion pe­riod in the House of As­sem­bly, and has asked that the clo­sure be de­layed un­til a re­view of school clo­sure pro­ce­dures is con­ducted.

“Half a dozen years ago dur­ing the Bishop’s Falls by­elec­tion, the former pre­mier said that no vi­able schools would be closed. On the government’s own web­site, it states that all stu­dents have a right to at­tend their neigh­bour­hood schools,” Ben­nett said.

“I ask the min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion to re­as­sure the Whit­bourne par­ents who are in gallery here to­day that he would de­fer the clo­sure of their school un­til he cor­rects the many flaws in his school clo­sure pol­icy.”

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Clyde Jack­man said that school clo­sures aren’t his de­ci­sion, and that’s a good thing, be­cause it stops him from mak­ing them po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

“The clo­sure of a school is a very emo­tional is­sue, and if your school is the one that’s se­lected to be closed, then you come up with all kinds of ra­tio­nales as to why it shouldn’t have,” Jack­man said.

“We have elected boards and as much as the folks across the way (the Lib­er­als) want to try and tell peo­ple that I can in­ter­vene and over­turn it, I can’t.”

Collins, who’s the MHA for the area, went out into the lobby af­ter Con­fed­er­a­tion Build­ing and spoke to the group briefly.

The y told him that the province has to come up with a bet­ter sys­tem when it comes to school clo­sures, be­cause they felt they weren’t dealt with prop­erly.

“Why are you clos­ing my school?” Rees asked point­edly.

“Only the board can an­swer that,” Collins replied.

Mean­while, Young said there was in­suf­fi­cient con­sul­ta­tion, and par­ents are not sat­is­fied with the ra­tio­nale for clos­ing the school.

When asked what im­pact the school clo­sure might have, Young replied: “I am a par­ent and I vol­un­teer at the school. It’s about 10 min­utes from our home. There are ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties and the Step­ping Stones Fam­ily Re­source Cen­tre is there. I’m wor­ried that we won’t be able to vol­un­teer at Wood­land be­cause of the dis­tance, and our chil­dren will not be able to par­tic­i­pate to the same level.”

He said the le­gal chal­lenge will be costly, but de­scribed the level of sup­port as strong.

The com­mit­tee has es­tab­lished a web­site ( http:// help­whit­bourne.webs.com/) that, among other things, gives sup­port­ers di­rec­tion on how they can do­nate to the cause. — With files from The Tele­gram

ed­i­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Submitted photo

An em­ployee dis­plays the med­i­cal waste dis­cov­ered on March 13.

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