PEI

'Status quo is not acceptable' at Eliot River Elementary, says parent group pushing for improvements at school

The Eliot River Home and School Association says parents have been advocating for changes at Eliot River Elementary School for a decade.

'We're busting at the seams and at a breaking point'

Eliot River Elementary School was originally built in 1973. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

Some parents at a school in Cornwall, P.E.I., say they feel overlooked by the province when it comes to their aging school. 

The Eliot River Home and School Association said parents have been advocating for changes at Eliot River Elementary School for a decade.

Amy MacFarlane has been part of the association for six years and said the school has outgrown its space. 

"The school was built 46 years ago and it was built in an era that predated a model of inclusive education, and quite simply we're busting at the seams and at a breaking point." 

I've heard stories of students who are withholding going to the washroom for full school days because they're not comfortable going into either the male or female washrooms.- Amy MacFarlane, Eliot River Home and School Association

Recently, the parent-led group made a video and a petition to create greater awareness around the needs of the school. 

"The status quo is not acceptable and the status quo is not sustainable. So we really felt we needed to raise our advocacy to the next level," she said. 

MacFarlane said the school's issues range from health and safety, to privacy and accessibility concerns. 

She said Eliot River is in need of at least one or two more classrooms, a break-out space and a multi-purpose room.

"Last year for instance, we had to take space in the lower level, the basement level of the school," she said.

"As a parent, that's concerning. I don't think children should spend an entire day in a room without natural light."

Province invested $125K

MacFarlane said it's not just parents advocating for change — students are aware of the issues as well. She said the association received letters from students about the lack of gender-neutral washrooms. 

"I've heard stories of students who are withholding going to the washroom for full school days because they're not comfortable going into either the male or female washrooms. There's no gender-neutral facilities at our school, which is heartbreaking." 

Eliot River is also in need of greater accessibility options such as an elevator, she said. 

Amy MacFarlane has a daughter at Eliot River Elementary School and feels the school has been overlooked by the province. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

"We have students with mobility issues that have gotten stuck on our school lift," said MacFarlane.

"I can't imagine the added attention and humiliation of being stuck there not being able to, to navigate around the school in a reasonable way."

Originally built in 1973

Eliot River is the one of the largest grades 4 to 6 schools in the province. It has approximately 470 students and MacFarlane anticipates that number will increase as Cornwall grows. 

MacFarlane said in 2013, the association met with the English language school board and was told Eliot River was behind Three Oaks Senior High school in Summerside in terms of infrastructure priorities. 

As a municipality we can come forth and advocate for our residents with the province.— Cornwall Coun. Elaine Barnes

In the last three years, the province said it's invested $125,000 at the school, which includes a wheelchair lift replacement, a humidification system and a partial roof replacement.

It said it's continuing to assess the needs of this school and many other aging schools like it across the province.

MacFarlane said the investment doesn't go far enough.

Infrastructure upgrades would include repaving the entrance to the school for greater accessibility. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

The group also met with the town's council this summer to present its concerns. Coun. Elaine Barnes said she's heard from parents about these issues and that council will address them in the future.

"Education is a provincial issue. Unfortunately, it's not controlled by the municipality, but as a municipality we can come forth and advocate for our residents with the province."

Barnes said council will meet with the Public Schools Branch in November to talk about the issues raised by the home and school association. 

More P.E.I. news

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isabella Zavarise is a video journalist with CBC in P.E.I. You can contact her at isabella.zavarise@cbc.ca

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