Impending school closure draws opposition
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
An employee displays the medical waste discovered on March 13.