Par­ents rally to save Whit­bourne El­e­men­tary

The Compass - - NEWS - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER nmercer@cb­n­com­pass.ca

It was déjà vu for some Whit­bourne El­e­men­tary par­ents at­tend­ing a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion ses­sion put off by the New­found­land and Labrador English School Dis­trict (NLESD) on April 4.

Just like in 2012, they were stand­ing in front of the just un­der a dozen NLESD board of trus­tees.

Just like then, they were fight­ing to save their school from clo­sure. Whit­bourne is one of five schools up for clo­sure across the prov­ince.

Inside the gym­na­sium at Whit­bourne El­e­men­tary, some 70 con­cerned par­ents and com­mu­nity of­fi­cials showed their sup­port for what many called “the heart of the com­mu­nity.”

For three hours, 21 speak­ers laid their con­cerns bare. They dis­puted the num­bers pro­vided by the school dis­trict and ques­tioned what would hap­pen if the shoe hap­pened to be on the other foot for the trus­tees.

Would they be look­ing to close the school?

Par­ents chal­lenged the board to find a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment for their chil­dren. They pointed to the nu­mer­ous af­ter school ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing basketball, bad­minton, the long-run­ning army cadet pro­gram and mar­tial arts.

“It makes no log­i­cal sense why Whit­bourne is up for clo­sure,” said par­ent Shan­non Byrne. “Weren’t we here two years ago? Don’t you know that the school is the heart of the com­mu­nity in one that is grow­ing and sta­ble?

“As par­ents, we should have been lis­tened too. Yet, here we are back again. My child’s needs are be­ing met in Whit­bourne.”

The meet­ing had a dif­fer­ent feel­ing then the one that took place at Cres­cent Col­le­giate in 2012.

The pre­vi­ous one ran higher on emo­tion. There were a larger num­ber of out­bursts in anger. That’s not to say these par­ents weren’t emo­tional. It was more sub­dued and mea­sured.

When they spoke about the lengthy bus rides fac­ing their chil­dren and the in­clu­sive envi- ron­ment they’d be leav­ing, there were tears and tense­ness in their voices.

“Hav­ing a five-year-old sit­ting on a bus for close to 75 min­utes and then hav­ing them spend the en­tire day at school and then another 75-minute bus ride at the end … this will have a se­vere im­pact on that child,” said par­ent Rudy Mercer. “How is that ben­e­fi­cial to our chil­dren?”

For their part, the board of trus­tees lis­tened in­ven­tively to the pre­sen­ta­tions and made notes where ap­pli­ca­ble.

“I thought the pre­sen­ta­tions were well-done,” said board chair­man Mil­ton Peach. “When you look at re­view­ing and be­cause the mo­tion is on the books for this school to close, emo­tions run pretty high. No­body wants a school in their town that is clos­ing.”

The next time the board of trus­tees will meet is April 16 in St. John’s. It is sched­uled to start 9 a.m. at the dis­trict con­fer­ence cen­tre on Straw­berry Marsh Road.

That’s when they’ll vote on the fu­ture of Whit­bourne El­e­men­tary.

PHOTO BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER/THE COM­PASS

Whit­bourne Mayor Hilda Whe­lan presents to the NLESD board of trus­tees dur­ing a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion meet­ing about the fu­ture of her town’s school.

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