Epiphany par­ents crit­i­cize board

Say pro­posed clo­sure of Heart’s De­light-is­ling­ton school based on flawed, in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERRY ROBERTS

They may have been small in num­bers, but those fight­ing to save Epiphany El­e­men­tary in Heart’s De­light-Is­ling­ton from clo­sure made sure their voices were heard dur­ing a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion meet­ing in Blake­town on the evening of Wed­nes­day, June 19.

Those who pre­sented to mem­bers of the Eastern School Dis­trict con­demned of­fi­cials for con­sid­er­ing such a dras­tic mea­sure based on what they called flawed and in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion, and called on board mem­bers to have yet an­other look at whether Epiphany could re­main open in Septem­ber.

They also con­demned the board for its han­dling of the process, as­sert­ing that the threat of a court chal­lenge by Whit­bourne El­e­men­tary par­ents was forc­ing them to en­dure the con­sul­ta­tion process for a sec­ond time.

Less then 30 peo­ple at­tended the meet­ing, and just four par­ents stepped to the mi­cro­phone dur­ing what turned out to be an un­ex­pect­edly short ses­sion in the cav­ernous gym­na­sium at Cres­cent Col­le­giate in Blake­town.

More than a dozen board mem­bers and se­nior staff with Eastern School Dis­trict were on hand to con­sider what is likely the big­gest de­ci­sions to face the vol­un­teer board be­fore it is dis­solved later this sum­mer as part of a ma­jor re­vamp­ing of the board sys­tem.

Dot­ted with er­rors

The tar­get of crit­i­cism for the par­ents was the board’s multi-year plan (2011-14). The plan lays out the ra­tio­nale for re­con­fig­ur­ing what’s re­ferred to as the Cres­cent sys­tem, which now in­cludes Cres­cent (Grade 7 to Level III) and five kinder­garten to Grade 6 schools — Epiphany, Acre­man El­e­men­tary in Green’s Har­bour, Wood­land El­e­men­tary in Dildo, Whi­bourne El­e­men­tary and Holy Fam­ily El­e­men­tary in Chapel Arm.

The board is ar­gu­ing that be­cause of de­clin­ing en­rol­ments and the need to ef­fi­ciently uti­lize avail­able re­sources, along with other con­sid­er­a­tions such as grade level con­fig­u­ra­tions, fa­cil­i­ties and stu­dent trans­porta­tion, that two el­e­men­tary schools — Epiphany and Whit­bourne El­e­men­tary — should be closed.

If ap­proved, the 37 stu­dents pro­jected to en­rol at Epiphany in Septem­ber will be ac­com­mo­dated at Acre­man, bring­ing that school’s to­tal en­rol­ment to 128. The 73 stu­dents slated to at­tend Whit­bourne will be bused to Wood­land, re­sult­ing in an en­rol­ment of 253 pupils.

A sec­ond pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion meet­ing for Whit­bourne El­e­men­tary/Wood­land El­e­men­tary is sched­uled for Mon­day, June 24 at 6:30 p.m. It will also be held at Cres­cent.

The board has sched­uled a meet­ing for July 10, at which time it will vote on no­tices of mo­tion to close both schools. If ap­proved, Epiphany and Whit­bourne El­e­men­tary will not re­open in Septem­ber.

Mean­while, par­ents at Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing ar­gued the multi-year plan is dot­ted with mis­takes, in­clud­ing the fact that Epiphany, with 43 stu­dents en­rolled for the 2012-13 school year, was listed as be­ing sit­u­ated in the neigh­bour­ing com­mu­nity of Heart’s De­sire.

They were es­pe­cially an­gry at the sug­ges­tion that Epiphany should close be­cause, un­like Acre­man, it does not have the ca­pac­ity to ac­com­mo­date stu­dents from both schools.

Pre­sen­ters noted that Epiphany has eight class­rooms; not five, as noted in the plan, and can ac­com­mo­date roughly 190 stu­dents. The plan in­di­cates the school can ac­com­mo­date 111 stu­dents.

One par­ent noted that when Epiphany opened in the early 1970s, there were some 240 stu­dents.

“Th­ese are mas­sive er­rors,” said par­ent Marion Simms.

Simms sug­gested Epiphany would be “smaller and cheaper to op­er­ate” than Acre­man.

Le­gal chal­lenge

It’s the lat­est step in what’s been a tu­mul­tuous year for those con­nected to Whit­bourne El­e­men­tary and Epiphany. It ap­peared the fight was over when the board voted late last year to close both schools.

How­ever, par­ents of stu­dents at­tend­ing Whit­bourne El­e­men­tary ral­lied and launched a le­gal chal­lenge.

In May, the board re­scinded the de­ci­sion to close the schools, and com­mit­ted to hold­ing yet an­other round of pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion ses­sions.

Board chair Mil­ton Peach of Car­bon­ear said the ad­vice from the court was that the board could have reached out more to par­ents, de­spite the fact the board used the same process that has been in place since 2005. He em­pha­sized, how­ever, that the court did not ques­tion the de­ci­sion, but the “process.”

“We went … through the school coun­cil, when we should have went di­rectly through the school prin­ci­pals with notes home to the par­ents,” Peach ex­plained fol­low­ing Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing.

As a re­sult, he added, the views of par­ents were given pri­or­ity this time around.

“If that was a flaw in the process, we wanted to cor­rect it,” Peach stated.

The stops and starts have added to the stress in both com­mu­ni­ties, noted one Epiphany par­ent, and she no longer has any con­fi­dence in the board.

Colleen Mur­phy, in a very crit­i­cal pre­sen­ta­tion pep­pered with some salty lan­guage, sug­gested the de­ci­sion was all about money, and not ed­u­ca­tion.

“We are be­ing pun­ished with false in­for­ma­tion,” she said.

When asked to comment on the turnout at the ses­sion, the mayor of Heart’s De­light-Is­ling­ton, Den­zil Shep­pard, said it was dis­ap­point­ing.

“A lot of peo­ple have given up, fig­ur­ing that what’s been go­ing on with the school board … peo­ple are say­ing they got their mind made up now any­way and what we have to say is ir­rel­e­vant.”

Mil­ton Peach (right) and Bruce Vey are seen at a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion meet­ing in Blake­town on Wed­nes­day, June 19. Peach, of Car­bon­ear, is chair of the Eastern School Dis­trict board of trus­tees, while Vey is the CEO/di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion.

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