Whitbourne keeps fight alive
Premier, education minister unreceptive to overtures from parents, residents
Despite the improbable odds they face with a decision already made to close the community’s school, residents of Whitbourne are not giving up on the fight to save it.
Wade Smith, a Whitbourne town councillor who is also active on the school matter, said those battling to keep it open beyond this month are sending emails and distributing a video making the case to keep the school open.
“We’re actually looking at legal representation. We’ve had a meeting with a lawyer,” Smith told The Compass late last week.
According to Lorna Vokey and Deanne March, two parents who have actively worked to reverse the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) board’s decision, enrollment from last September to next September would increase by 20 students if the school were to stay open.
As of last December, there were 78 students at the school. NLESD’s 10-year projection numbers from 2010 to 2020 suggested the school would have 66 students by 2020.
Vokey and March contend the school should never have been presented for review in the first place. Vokey said Whitbourne residents were not given enough time to make their case for why the school should remain open and feels the board of trustees ultimately failed to listen to the community.
“If you sat down right now and listened to every presentation that was given at consultation that night up at our school, I can guarantee you would say, ‘This school can’t close. This needs to stay open,’” said Vokey. “But they did not listen to a word we had to say, because they had their minds made up before they even came in here as far as I’m concerned.”
Vokey also disputes the board’s suggestion the school isn’t accessible. She said Woodland Elementary in Dildo, where current Whitbourne Elementary students are scheduled to go next fall, is not accessible.
It’s wasn’t that long ago that the government was trying to close out the majority of multi-level buildings in the province, and now they’re closing down a fully accessible school with increasing enrollment, and it’s just terrible. Deanne March
“The school they want to send our kids to is a multi-level building,” said Vokey. “Plus, take the building out of the equation altogether, they’re on a hill at a 90-degree angle to the main road. There’s no play area for our kids.”
“It’s wasn’t that long ago that the government was trying to close out the majority of multilevel buildings in the province, and now they’re closing down a fully accessible school with increasing enrollment, and it’s just terrible,” said March.
Smith questions whether there’s a real need for work on the roof at Whitbourne Elementary, as suggested by the board in its presentation. He said an access to information request going back to 2011 onwards found nothing to indicate there were ever concerns about the school’s roof.
“There was never problems with the roof,” said Smith. “The only problems with the roof were at Woodland.”
Since then, parents and concerned residents have reached out to both Education Minister Dale Kirby and Premier Dwight Ball, but those efforts have been fruitless so far. Smith said Kirby supported the community on the school issue when he was an opposition member, but has since then turned his back on Whitbourne.
“We got a response from the premier (Thursday), and he’s refusing to meet with us,” said Smith.
“All we’re saying is, ‘Listen, we want to show you the facts.’ Not the facts that’s been presented to you by (the board and NLESD), because they’re not facts. This was something that was orchestrated by the district back in 2011, and the whole idea was they’d let the school drop down. They never tried to do any repairs, because if they were saying these repairs were there, then why weren’t they on their books? Why weren’t they in their expense reports? They’re not there.”
Supporters of Whitbourne Elementary hold signs outside the local Lions Club Thursday, June 2. Residents gathered there for a meeting about a controversial industrial composting facility.
Whitbourne Elementary is slatted to close for good later this month.