Whitbourne Ele­men­tary to re­main open in Septem­ber 2017

Court’s de­ci­sion re­verses school’s clo­sure once again

The Compass - - Front Page - BY CHRIS LEWIS

A de­ci­sion was made in Supreme Court on Fri­day, June 23rd, for Whitbourne Ele­men­tary to re­main open.

Whitbourne Ele­men­tary faced the pos­si­bil­ity of per­ma­nent clo­sure in 2016, and again in 2017, af­ter de­ci­sions made by the board of trus­tees for the English School District.

Dur­ing the sum­mer of 2016, Supreme Court Jus­tice Valerie Mar­shall de­nied a de­ci­sion made by the board re­gard­ing the clo­sure of the school. Two months later, how­ever, the board voted again to close the K-6 school.

Were the school to close, students would be moved to at­tend Wood­land Ele­men­tary in Dildo, which would be a fairly long dis­tance for some students to travel.

Fol­low­ing the de­ci­sion, Patti Kennedy, chair­per­son for the Whitbourne Ele­men­tary School Coun­cil, said the school com­mu­nity was in shock, but for the first time in a while, it was a good kind of shock.

“We’re all very re­lieved, very speech­less, and over­all, we just feel amaz­ing,” said Kennedy, who told The Compass over the phone that she was hug­ging happy teach­ers as she spoke.

“This de­ci­sion has put the whole com­mu­nity in a good tail­spin, and it’s com­pletely bright­ened our days, or years. It couldn’t have come at a bet­ter time.”

The de­ci­sion was an­nounced just as staff at Whitbourne Ele­men­tary were pre­par­ing to turn in their keys for good.

Kennedy de­scribed the whole ex­pe­ri­ence as some­thing akin to David and Go­liath, and feels as though this is the first time they’ve re­ally had their voices heard.

“This whole thing has been filled with ‘wows’,” Kennedy told The Compass. “At first it was, ‘Wow, are they re­ally go­ing to do this?’ to “Wow, this is fi­nally hap­pen­ing.’ It’s re­ally a won­der­ful time for all of us.”

Kennedy ex­plained that there are still a few peo­ple here and there who are an­gry that the sit­u­a­tion hap­pened in the first place, but she feels that the anger will slowly fade away, and that she and the rest of the school’s coun­cil are wait­ing with op­ti­mism to work with the elected board of trus­tees.

Goronwy Price, chair­man of the board, told The Compass Fri­day af­ter­noon that the board is work­ing to make sure Whitbourne Ele­men­tary is ready to open again this com­ing fall sea­son.

“It’s a process that in­volves as­sur­ing that books, equip­ment, and staffing are all al­lo­cated prop­erly,” Price ex­plained. “We want to en­sure that the school is ready for another year, and that it’s pre­pared to meet the needs of the students as best it can. I’m con­fi­dent that our staff will ac­com­plish what needs to be done in the up­com­ing weeks.”

An ap­peal was heard May 11th in Supreme Court con­cern­ing an as­pect of Mar­shall’s rul­ing on the first clo­sure vote, and judg­ment was ren­dered on June 23rd, turn­ing down the vote for a sec­ond time.

At is­sue in the ap­peal was whether or not the Board of the New­found­land and Labrador English School District, com­pris­ing of ap­pointed trus­tees, had the author­ity to close the school.

It was noted in the court ap­peal that sec­tions 75 and 76 of the Schools Act of 1997 state that a board may close a school only if the par­ents of students af­fected by the clo­sure have been given the op­por­tu­nity to make rep­re­sen­ta­tion to the board.

It was also noted that the Act states that a board of trustee should con­sist of elected mem­bers, while the board at the time was made up of ap­pointed mem­bers.

Ac­cord­ing to the Act, mem­bers may be ap­pointed when a board is cre­ated, as long as an elec­tion is held in a rea­son­able time frame.

Ul­ti­mately, such an elec­tion did not take place, as it was in the hands of pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to hold such an elec­tion, rather than the board it­self.

The re­sult was that par­ents’ sub­mis­sion that the board, con­sist­ing of ap­pointed trus­tees, did not have the author­ity to close the school.

It was de­cided that such a de­ci­sion is a mat­ter of spe­cial con­cern to par­ents, who, as of sec­tion 76 of the Act, have the right to make rep­re­sen­ta­tions to a prop­erly con­sti­tuted board.

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON/THE COMPASS

When students were making their way to school last Wed­nes­day, they may have thought the fu­ture for Whitbourne Ele­men­tary was a done deal. But that all changed with Fri­day’s news of a court of ap­peal rul­ing that gave the K-6 school new life.

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