School closures to hit 5 rural communities

The Eastern School District has revealed plans that include closing schools in five rural communities.
The Eastern School District has laid out plans that if approved will see five rural schools close next year. (CBC)

The Eastern School District has revealed plans that include closing schools in five rural communities, as it responds to declining enrolments in eastern Newfoundland.

The schools are in the communities of Swift Current, Catalina, Heart's Delight, Whitbourne and Colliers.

The recommendations laid out in the district's multi-year plan still require board approval, but if ratified will take effect at the end of the school year in June.

"Any decision to recommend a school for closure or reconfiguration is not taken lightly," the plan says.

"The board recognizes the importance of finding a balance between maintaining community and neighbourhood schools as well as ensuring that students receive quality learning opportunities in healthy, active, safe, caring, and socially just environments."

The affected schools are Swift Current Academy, Catalina Elementary, Epiphany Elementary in Heart's Delight, Whitbourne Elementary, and Immaculate Conception in Colliers.

Catalina town manager Darryl Johnston said the town's school is the heart of the community, and is used for youth and community activities on nights and weekends.

He said the town is already struggling after its shrimp and seal processing plants closed, and that the town cannot afford to lose the school, too.

"We formed a committee, an economic development committee, [to] foster the environment to bring people in to live in our town, and to get people to invest in out town, bring business in," he said.

"It makes it very difficult when you haven't got the drawing card of a school."

Johnson says if the school closes, it will show that the school board and provincial government are willing to let the community die.

In concert with the school closures, the board is recommending substantial changes in other areas, including busing, zoning and feeder schools.

For instance, students in Kindergarten through Grade 6 at Swift Current Academy will be rezoned to Riverside Elementary in Shoal Harbour, while older students will be bused to Clarenville Middle School and Clarenville High School.

Public meetings will be held on the reorganization plan.

The board is set to vote on the plan on Dec. 13.