Coles Island, Pennfield, Lorne Middle schools slated to close

Two district education councils voted to close three schools and merge two others on Thursday night, decisions that are already causing local criticism.

Policy 409 gives Education Minister Serge Rousselle the final decision on school closures

Two district education councils voted to close three schools and merge two others on Thursday night, decisions that are already prompting local criticism.

The Anglophone West School District voted to close Coles Island School, a K-5 school with approximately 30 students, on Thursday night. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)
The Anglophone South District Education Council voted to close Lorne Middle School in Saint John's old north end and Pennfield Elementary.

The Anglophone West District Education Council, meanwhile, voted to close Coles Island School.

The council also voted to merge the elementary and high schools in Stanley, which are located in the same building.

While the final decision on the school closures now rests with Education Minister Serge Rousselle, the councils’ decisions are causing concern from elected members and parents in the affected communities.

Coles Island School is a K-5 school and has 30 students.

Sabrina McFarland, the chair of the school's parent support committee, said she was “very disappointed” with the council’s vote.

“What they have chosen to do, they took finances into their own hands and not our children’s education in their lives,” she said.

“I do know that over 50 per cent of parents of Coles Island have said that they will be home schooling.”

Parent Melissa Robertson just heard how the news will affect her son.

"It's a little worrisome actually, because he has ADHD and he's going to have to now be one a bus up to an hour each way on the bus," she said. "I have a hard time getting him to sit still going to the grocery store I can't imagine being on a school bus and trying to keep him entertained."

Robertson hopes this isn't the final word.

"It's a little scary because I have four who will now be on the bus until supper time every day and right now my husband is out west, so it's just me," she said. "I don't have a vehicle so, that leaves me with two and a half hours to do homework, bath, everything."

Students from Coles Island would go to either Chipman or Cambridge Narrows. The elementary school is Chipman is 40 kilometres away while the K-12 school in Cambridge Narrows is 22 kilometres away.

Conservatives call for freeze on closures

At the Legislature, the Progressive Conservative opposition seemed resigned to the closures. The Tories didn’t raise the issue during Question Period, and the party’s education critic, Gary Crossman, says the school districts now need to ensure a smooth transition for the students.

But Crossman also says he still believes the province should freeze any closures until it releases its promised 10-year education plan.

“I know it’s not easy,” he said. “Things are moving ahead and we need to prepare for that as well.”

Holding off until the plan is ready, even for a few months, would let the province look at other ways to use school buildings and to move teachers around, said Crossman, a former school principal.

“There needs to be some tough decisions down the road,” he said. “My point is: Don’t rush into it.”

Rousselle says that plan will be released “in the near future.”

But the education minister says by law, he has only 30 to 60 days to review the closure recommendations and make a final decision.

“We have to make a decision when we receive a recommendation,” he says.

Rousselle says he will strictly follow the eight criteria in Policy 409 that he must look at when reviewing a closure decision. That includes a closure’s impact on a community.

“This is a question of administrative law,” he says. “I have to receive all the information, and with all the information, I’ll make up my mind.”

The minister says he doesn’t have an estimate on the average cost saving from closing a school.

More study needed, DEC member says

Following the vote to close schools in the Anglophone South district, one council member said these types of votes should be delayed.

Larry Boudreau said he thinks the provincial government needs to do a complete review of infrastructure before good decisions can be made on closing schools.

Boudreau, who lives in Pennfield, voted against closing both Pennfield School and Lorne Middle School.

Education Minister Serge Rousselle will have the final say in whether schools will close in the province. (CBC)
He was the only member who voted against closing both schools and he said closing the Pennfield school will be tough on his community.

 “It's going to have a huge impact. Obviously the kids have been there, it's a small school and of any school there's always the personal touch there,” he said.

“But there's more when there's small numbers. not only that but the financial impact, I mean for their hot lunches and breakfast programs they buy groceries from the local merchants. So that obviously plays an impact and in a [local service district] it plays an important factor in the centre community as it's used for many resources.”

Students at Pennfield Elementary would have the option to go to either Blacks Harbour or St. George schools.

Both Pennfield Elementary and Lorne Middle have around 50 students.

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