Parents make powerful pitch
School trustees deluged with passionate, emotional pleas to save Whitbourne Elementary
Those fighting the save Whitbourne Elementary from permanent closure gave those entrusted with that weighty decision plenty to think about during a public consultation meeting in Blaketown on J night.
For more than two hours, speaker after speaker stepped to a microphone inside the Crescent Collegiate gymnasium and delivered a united and strong message — Whitbourne Elementary is the heart of this growing community and closing it will cause more hardship and stress and upheaval than can be justified.
“Do what’s right for our children’s education and health and wellbeing,” pleaded Karen Reid, a Whitbourne resident and parent of three children between the ages of two and seven.
Some 130-plus people gathered at the school for the second of two public meetings relating to a notice of motion by the board to close Whitbourne Elementary and Epiphany Elementary in Heart’s Delight-Islington.
The first meeting, held June 19, was for those wanting to give input on the proposal to close Epiphany. That meeting attracted some 30plus attendees.
It’s proposed that students from Whitbourne and Markland be bused to Woodland Elementary in Dildo beginning in September, while Epiphany students will travel to Acreman Elementary in Green’s Harbour. All four are kindergarten to Grade 6 schools.
It was the second round of public hearings in what has been a tumultuous and agonizing process for those involved.
The board originally voted to close the two schools in December, but rescinded the decision following a court challenge by supporters of Whitbourne Elementary.
Another notice of motion was tabled in May, and the board released a document spelling out its rationale for wanting to close the schools. Board officials agreed to hold more public hearings, giving priority to parents.
The board is now planning to hold a “study session” in the coming days, prior to a board meeting on July 10, at which time it will vote on the notice of motion.
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.
The board is arguing that the schools should close because of declining enrolments and the need to eff iciently utilize available resources, along with other considerations such as grade level configurations, facilities and student transportation.
Filled with emotion
But parents demonstrated Monday night they are as determined as ever to save their school, and came prepared with a series of presentations that were filled with emotion, passion and what they feel is a strong argument for delaying the closure and taking another look at the issue.
Several parents paused, choking back tears, as they related stories about how their children should not have to endure what some are saying is a 45-minute bus ride to and from school each day.
They also raised concerns about accessibility issues at Woodland, and other shortcomings such as a lack of outside play areas.
One parent described how her disabled son is able to get around using walking aids at Whitbourne Elementary, a single-level facility, while she fears he may have to use a wheelchair at Woodland.
The document prepared by the board to rationalize its decision was also described as “fatally flawed” because it contained inaccurate information, including enrolment projections that school supporters say is well below the actual numbers.
Parents referred to a door-to-door survey conducted in the town they say proves the board estimate, based on information provided by the province’s statistics agency, is 36 per cent lower than what the survey found.
Parents also questioned the need to close a school in a community that is showing steady population growth, with many dozens of new homes being constructed and more on the way.
“More research is needed,” said parent Paulette Ralph. “A feasibility study is essential.”
“Do not make decisions based on flawed information,” added parent Anthony Young.
Some parents are worried their children will not be able to participate in extra-curricular activities, and are angry that many children accustomed to walking to school will now have to board a bus for an extended period each day. Parents say their ability to volunteer at the school and quickly respond if their child has an emergency will also be hindered.
“We believe in our school. We’re asking you to believe in it as well,” said Rudy Mercer, the parent of a sevenyear-old child.
Many spoke about the problems associated with busing, including anxiety and fatigue, and bullying, and questioned whether the board will actually save money by reconfiguring the schools.
Parents chided the board over what they say is a lack of two-way dialogue, and suggested the plan lacks any meaningful form of social justice.
“This process does not give us any opportunity for closure,” said Kristi Sooley, the parent of two young children. “What you’re doing is wrong.”
Whitbourne Elementary was repeatedly described as a great, single level building with wide hallways and spacious classrooms, ample parking and “pride of ownership” by the school community that maintains it.
“Give us a reprieve. Look at the facts again,” said Harriott GosseReese, speaking on behalf of her seven-year-old granddaughter.
When asked later if he felt the presentations swayed the board trustees in attendance, Anthony Young said he’ll only be able to answer that question following the July 10 meeting.
“We did all we could here tonight,” said Young.
This sign in the crowd was symbolic of the mood in the room as parent Anthony Young (foreground) delivered his presentation to the Eastern School District board of trustees and senior staff.
Some 130-plus people gathered in the Crescent Collegiate gymnasium on Monday, June 24 for a meeting on the future of Whitbourne Elementary.
Kristi Sooley struggles to hold back tears during a presentation to members of the Eastern School Disrtrict at a public hearing in Blaketown Monday night. Sooley is the parent of two children attending Whitbourne Elementary. The board is proposing the close the school.
Whitbourne resident Karen Reid gave an emotional presentation about the stress and anxiety she experienced during her youth while riding a school bus from her hometown of Chance Cove to Norman’s Cove.