Whitbourne Elementary to remain open in September 2017
Court’s decision reverses school’s closure once again
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.
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.