Nova Scotia

School boards puzzled by halted reviews

A long time advocate of rural schools is celebrating a recent decision by the province's education minister.

Cape Breton women has been fighting to keep local school open

A teacher helps a student during class. Kate Oland an advocate for rural schools is happy the province's education minister has asked all school boards to halt the review process they use to close schools. (iStock)

The chairs of three school boards in Nova Scotia say it's too soon for them to say whether they will stop planned school closures after the education minister asked them to suspend their reviews until a new closure policy is drafted.

Ramona Jennex announced on Wednesday there will be a new school review process to decide which schools in the province should close.

South Shore Regional School Board chair Jennifer Naugler said she's frustrated by the timing.

Just last week, the board voted to close the school in Gold River as part of an overall plan to save $1million next year.

"The roof has started leaking badly and that’s a $100,000 repair that is needed rather immediately, so delaying this by a year puts extra strain on our budget. It’s making it more difficult in what’ s already a difficult budgeting year," said Naugler.

Chignecto-Central School Board chair Trudy Thompson says she agrees the province needs a less confrontational review process, but said it comes at a frustrating time.

In Cape Breton, board chair Lorne Green said boards have been telling the minister that for months.

"The issue here is the timing of this, boards have gone through some painstaking measures to go and look at the facilities and announce schools for review, it's caused a lot of unrest in school communities and the minister is asking or requesting boards to suspend the review process, and my understanding is it's exactly that, it's a request," he said.

"Board chairs are meeting this morning and that'll definitely be a topic of discussion and boards you know will ultimately decide where they go from here."

Advocate pleased with new policy

But a long-time advocate of rural schools is celebrating the decision. Kate Oland has been fighting to save Middle River Elementary school in Cape Breton.

"I am just so exhilarated today and so relieved and so proud of the people across Nova Scotia in small communities who have been passionately advocating for education within their rural communities. Feeling profoundly grateful that our voices have been listened to," she said.

"I know there's a lot of work ahead of us still, but I feel it's an amazing step in the right direction."

The education minister said the government wants to create more collaboration between the community, the school boards and government.

Oland credits the minister's decision to the work of a volunteer group called the Nova Scotia Small Schools Initiative.

The group, which Oland is a part of, formed last spring. Its goal is to fight rural school closures.

Oland said the group has presented several policy papers to various government departments.

"When you get advocates from Yarmouth to Cape Breton speaking to this as rural sustainability issue and you get advocates whose schools may have already closed who are still fighting it because it's the principal, it's the wider vision we stand for. I think that that's really made a difference in getting the decision makers to listen."

Oland said there's still a lot of work ahead, but she's optimistic that the school review process will change.