Epiphany parents criticize board
Say proposed closure of Heart’s Delight-islington school based on flawed, inaccurate information
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.
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.