Closing Whitbourne Elementary defies logic
Ahh, June. No other month quite like it.
Finally, a day here and there to venture outside without socks or long-sleeves. Whispers of summer on the breeze. A promise of warmer weather, longer evenings, and time to rest and relax. The school year is winding down. Excitement is palpable.
I imagine most parents anticipate June with a unique combination of longing and dread. They are busy arranging day camps, registering for summer programs, and scheduling vacations. Thoughts of September and the new school year are far from their minds.
Not so for the parents at Whitbourne Elementary. On the cusp of summer holidays, September 2016 has become like a dark cloud looming over us. There is a chill in the air that we just cannot shake, put there by the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District’s Board of Trustees when they voted to close our school.
If you do not live in Whitbourne, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. There are two elementary schools, 27 kilometres apart, and either of the facilities can accommodate the combined student populations. Both buildings need repairs. Why not close one, cut operating costs in half, and save the empty-pocketed government thousands of dollars. It’s a no-brainer, right? Wrong. NLESD and its unelected board did a fine job simplifying issues. They met with our school council in January with their ducks in a row. Parents and concerned stakeholders were provided with a School Review Policy and a newly drafted GOV-104 document. Information regarding the process could be found on the district website.
We were encouraged to provide online feedback. An evening of public presentations was scheduled. We had ample opportunity to express our opinions, our concerns, our fears. And we did.
In fact, we went well beyond opinions, concerns, and fears. We presented facts. We offered accurate data. We expressed logic. We spoke with the voice of reason. We researched. We crunched numbers. We developed bar graphs and spreadsheets. We provided the board with everything they were lacking, and explained to them the multitude of reasons why Whitbourne Elementary is not only a viable school, but also a vital one.
We lost sleep. We shed tears of frustration. We felt like pulling out our hair. Maybe that was just me, but I do not think so. Because we could see so clearly the necessity of this school for our children.
For the child who is a walking student, but will now have to travel an hour, twice a day, on the school bus. For the child whose ADHD medications will need to be doubled in order to cope with the additional stressors. For the child whose recently developed medical condition requires they be close to home and to an emergency clinic. For the child whose parents must choose between full day in-class support services or half-day support with the remainder of time
“And so, our fight continues, perhaps a little less quietly. While others are planning playdates in the park, we will be protesting.”
used for bus supervision. For the child whose physical disability will mean they will now have to be home-schooled. For the child who suffers from anxiety.
For each of these children, and the 80 or more others whose issues I know nothing about, or whose only issue may be that they want to attend a school in their thriving, growing hometown. Viable. And vital. For two and a half months, we fought – albeit quietly. We held on to the shred of hope that, despite the perceived bias, despite having our school reviewed twice in less than three years, we could enlighten the board and convince them this school need not close.
And yet, in the face of all that we had said and done, those unelected trustees voted by secret ballot to close Whitbourne Elementary. The ballots were destroyed immediately after the vote. The chair then had the gall to say that they listened to us. Clearly, they did not.
And so, our fight continues, perhaps a little less quietly. While others are planning playdates in the park, we will be protesting. While others are attending soccer practice, we will be petitioning. While others are setting up sprinklers, we will be holding signs and singing the praises of Whitbourne Elementary.
We will do this until someone who has the authority to do so reverses the decision to close this school. Only then will the clouds be cleared away. Only then will we experience summer in all of its unbridled glory, the way it is meant to be.