Par­ents make pow­er­ful pitch

School trus­tees del­uged with pas­sion­ate, emo­tional pleas to save Whit­bourne El­e­men­tary

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERRYROBERTS THE COM­PASS

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.

Bus­ing con­cerns

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.

Pho­tos by Terry Roberts/the Com­pass

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.

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