Nfld. & Labrador

Schools need independent advocates, says N.L. education critic

As parents at Whitbourne Elementary celebrate the court decision to keep their school open, the Federation of School Councils says their fight has exposed problems with the school board system.
Peter Whittle says Newfoundland and Labrador communities should be granted independent education advocates. (CBC)

As parents at Whitbourne Elementary celebrate a court decision to keep their school open, the Federation of School Councils says their fight has exposed problems with the school board system.

Dozens of volunteers gave their time, energy and talents in the effort, and Federation President Peter Whittle said that's a cost not every community can afford.

He said that for the system to be truly democratic, government should pay for a third-party advocate to help towns defend their schools.

"Right now it's communities, it's individuals who might not have any training in communications or consultations who are asked to look at these documents and save their schools with the info provided," he said.

"Meanwhile government has hundreds of thousands of dollars available through professionals they hire ... So really what chance does a tiny community have?"

Whitbourne Elementary has survived two attempted closures. (CBC)

Whitbourne Elementary was one of five schools slated to close in September. 

In Friday's ruling, the judge said Whitbourne parents didn't have all the information they needed to prepare for the school board vote.

"It makes you very concerned that the board either through ... mistake or deliberate design is really not being transparent and is not being accountable in its actions," said Whittle.

He wonders what would have happened had the other four schools filed their own court challenge.

'Back to normal' by September

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District declined an interview request, as they told CBC News it is still reviewing the Supreme Court decision and consulting with lawyers.

Meanwhile, parents said they've already begun the process of moving things back into the school.

Patti Kennedy, chair of the Whitbourne School Council, said that moving trucks are already back at Whitbourne Elementary and the school is being prepared for students in September.

"It will be a massive undertaking," she said.

"I would imagine within the next two to three days we'll see the doors open and the windows open to air out a building that should never have been closed in the beginning."

Kennedy said she doesn't speak for the teachers or their union.  But, she said, she's hoping the teachers at the school will be able to go back to their old positions.

"We're hoping to get the family back again together, but we have no way of knowing how that part of it will pan out," she said.

The last time Whitbourne Elementary was spared from closure in 2013, Kennedy said teachers at the school had to reapply for their old jobs.

About the Author

Laura Howells is a journalist from St. John's who is now working in Toronto and Hamilton. You can reach her at laura.howells@cbc.ca.