Whit­bourne par­ents launch court chal­lenge

Case against school board de­ci­sion to be heard Wed­nes­day

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER

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.”

NI­CHOLAS MERCER/THE COMPASS

Wade Smith is the chair­man of the Help Whit­bourne El­e­men­tary Com­mit­tee

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