Whitbourne parents launch court challenge
Case against school board decision to be heard Wednesday
Empty hallways and classrooms in any school is usually a welcomed sight as the calendar shifts to July.
It means summer holidays have begun and another school year is finished. Not in the town of Whitbourne, however.
This year’s closing assembly marked the final one for Whitbourne Elementary. However, if the Help Whitbourne Elementary Committee has its way, students will be back in September.
Last Monday, the group launched a court challenge to the decision by the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District board of trustees on April 16 to close the school and move its students to nearby Woodland Elementary in New Harbour.
They believe the process to close Whitbourne was ”flawed and rushed” and all of the information parents and the school council presented was “ignored.”
“We want this process changed and we want accountability,” said committee chairman Wade Smith. “Whatever the decision is going to be, at the end of the day we want this process changed. This decision should only be made by the minister.
“They’re the ultimate power in this province. That’s why we elected them.”
The case will be heard in Supreme Court in St. John’s on June 29 at 10 a.m., where lawyer Jeff Slade will represent the group.
Unlike other schools in the province, Whitbourne’s closed a day earlier than anyone else. The school was closed and students and staff said good-bye on Wednesday. Staff’s last day was Thursday.
Parents noticed a difference at the closing assembly. There wasn’t the joy that comes with the successful finishing another school year.
“To look around the gymnasium and see kids crying, parents with tears rolling down their faces, it hurt,” said parent Lorna Vokey, her voice cracking slightly.
Vokey and a couple of parents took one more stroll around the facility. They were astonished by the amount of stuff moved already.
Moving vans were in Whitbourne multiple times last week as the district began the transition process.
Empty classrooms greeted the parents at every turn. Most of the tables moved and some of the children’s pictures on the floor.
“It was very, very sad to see the empty rooms and to be here yesterday to see what it was like then and what it’s like now,” said Vokey. “I went to school here, so that makes it worse.” Not a good move Parents say the children with disabilities will suffer plenty when school opens again in the fall.
They believe Whitbourne is the best option given its population relative to the size of the school, accessibility and programs offered. These parents fear the impending overcrowding at Woodland will hinder their development and cause more anxiety amongst the children.
“I feel like my child is being squeezed out of our education system because of his disabilities,” said Deanne March. “Safety or a child feeling excluded should never have to be a choice for children with disabilities.”
Parent Kim Power has seen her son flourish in school after they moved from the city to Whitbourne.
“This is nothing against Woodland (Elementary),” she said. “This is what my kids need. I’ve had to fight for my kid for years in a system when he was in with 500 kids. It’s the ability to adjust and transition … by day four of him being out here, he was full days and he’s been in full days ever since.”
The court challenge will be only the beginning of what is sure to be a busy summer for supporters of Whitbourne’s school. Various protests are planned for the coming months as parents attempt to sway some sort of response that could see the decision reversed.
“We’re trying to save a school and save other schools down the road,” said school council chair Patti Ken- nedy. “We’ve got nothing against the other school, it’s the process.
“The outcome is always the same.”
Wade Smith is the chairman of the Help Whitbourne Elementary Committee