School so crowded kids can't use bathroom: parents

James McLeod
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St. Peter's Elementary School in Mount Pearl.

Parents describing the situation at St. Peter's Elementary in Mount Pearl say it's nothing short of appalling.

A school designed for 450 students is handling around 750 and it's bursting at the seams. The bathroom on the main floor with two urinals and two stalls has to handle 175 elementary school-aged boys.

"They often have music in their classrooms. They sometimes have gym in their classrooms," angry parent Christine Hennebury told The Telegram.

"Children eat at their desk," said Derek Sullivan, who's president of the school council. "Speech therapy at the school is delivered from a refurbished janitor's closet."

The problems boiled over at a public meeting held this week, where parents hashed out their issues.

"It is a systemic, long-term problem at St. Peter's Elementary and the school council has been working on it for years and years," Sullivan said.

The school is also looking to shut down its computer lab.

"They did a fundraiser to raise money for iPads, and someone, in their infinite wisdom, decided that could be a mobile computer lab," Hennebury said.

Nobody from the Eastern School District would do an interview with The Telegram, but a written statement said that they're aware of the issues.

"The District's Multi-Year Plan 2011-2014 includes a commitment to review the Mount Pearl system and implement any recommended changes in September 2014 for the 2014-15 school year," the statement said.

"Work on this review has already commenced and has included meetings with the administrators of the schools and information sharing with affected school councils."

But parents complain that the review has been promised for years, and nothing has been done yet. Moreover, despite years of overcrowding, nothing will be done before 2014.

Education Minister Clyde Jackman defended the school district, and said this is "growing pains" as a result of the massive population increases on the Northeast Avalon.

But when The Telegram asked Jackman about 175 boys using a single washroom with two stalls and two urinals, Jackman said that's definitely not OK.

"A statement like that would be bothersome. There's no doubt about that," he said. "I'll have my staff follow up with school board officials to those kinds of details, but certainly, those are the kinds of details we must be able to work out."

Generally speaking, though, Jackman said he doesn't get involved in the specific school issues; that's the school board's responsibility.

"I don't get into those finite details around what number of classrooms are in a building or whatnot," he said. "The school boards, they come forward with their priorities and that gets entered into a budget process."

New Democrat MHA Dale Kirby was at Thursday night's meeting. He said he was disturbed by what he heard.

"It's pretty nasty business," he said. "If you think about tiny kids coming home from school feeling sick because they're constipated, that's unacceptable in my opinion. That's not first world conditions."

One of the complicating factors in all of this is that the provincial government is amalgamating four school boards into one mega-board, which means the current board won't even be around in 2014.

"I like to try to be optimistic about things. Maybe with the advent of the super-sized school district, that the minister is going to be overseeing, maybe there will be an opportunity to look at the schools on a provincewide basis and see if there efficiencies that can be gained one way or the other." Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: The Telegram, Multi-Year Plan 2011-2014

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, Northeast Avalon

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Recent comments

  • Rosie
    July 05, 2013 - 09:09

    This is completely unacceptable. I'm glad that parents are finally speaking up. Nothing will ever get changed until parents start to demand the change. Why are we allowing our children's education to be brushed aside as "good enough"? We need an education system that is going to produce bright, curious students to take Newfoundland into the future. How much one-on-one attention are these students getting? In a class of 30-odd students, what happens to the student(s) who fall behind? To those on here saying, get in line, or it's always been this way- get a clue! This is important. I'm not just the conditions at St. Peter's, but the whole state of our education system. Parents (and non-parents, as this affects every Newfoundlander) need to all start speaking up and demanding a better quality of education.

  • California Pete fron NFLD
    July 01, 2013 - 11:06

    Take a number please

  • California Pete from NFLD
    June 30, 2013 - 14:41


  • A concerned parent
    June 30, 2013 - 04:59

    While I agree that St Peter's is by far not the only overcrowded school it is the one my children attend. As a parent I have watched my child, currently going to Grade 5 grow so accustomed to the overcrowding that she sees it as normal. The issue has now been pushed to a breaking point with the loss of the computer lab and administration. We will not go away or shut up. Other parents with similar issues, please join as we fight for the education our children deserve.

    • terralynn
      July 05, 2013 - 02:42

      We moved from Alberta after 15 years of living away back to Newfoundland for 1 year. We lived in Southlands and were zoned for St. Peter's. I have to say I found it appauling what these children are living in. My boys witnessed mice in that one bathroom and in their rusted lockers. We steady heard about how my son's grade 3 class of 36! children had a leak in the ceiling from the upstairs bathroom overflowing. It was never properally dealt with other than a bucket being thrown under it. I feel for the teachers trying to teach in this state. I question the cleanliness of the school. My children while there were CONSTANTLY sick. I cannot understand it. Since it was never the norm in their Alberta school. We actually grew so frustrated with it in Newfoundland. We took a transfer to Ontario when it was offered through my husbands engineering job. We were born and raised in Newfoundland. But this is not the schools I remember fully. Or maybe I have forgotten. In the end sadly it required us leaving the province again to get our kids in an appropriate school system. I was amazed with the difference. The school here is not new. We are in an older neighborhood. But well maintained and extremely clean. We went from a class of 36 grade 3 students to a class of only 16. There is a computer lab available, gym, library, and plenty of room to run during lunch and their 2 recess periods. I would love to know where all our hard earned Newfoundland taxes are going. It is pretty bad that it drives the Newfoundlanders to move away again? I am happy that parents are finally standing up for their kids, and what they deserve! Awesome! Keep up the fight

  • St. Peter's Parent
    June 29, 2013 - 17:17

    Two of my children currently attend St. Peters and I honestly don't find it any more crowded than the other schools they have attended. My oldest just completed a year at MPI because there was no room at St. Peters to include grade 6 immersion. His MPI classroom was insanely small and either too hot or too cold at all times. If asked, Im sure he would prefer St. Peter's. Another of my sons who just completed grade one, would often use the kindergarten bathroom, also situated on the main floor. The staff are aware of the issues and are very helpful and involved in trying to find a solution. The cafeteria is in use everyday both as a gym space and as a place for children to eat. The grades rotate which days they are able to eat there. Again though, the MPI cafeteria is much smaller and the children there do not have the option of eating in their classrooms. In response to another comment, we parents do not have the option of taking our children out of St. Peter's simply because it is the only school that offers early french immersion for grades higher than kindergarten. The school board has addressed this issue to an extent in that they have started the immersion program at newtown, re-zoning kids in the process. This is being implemented one year at a time though, and we have to be patient. My youngest will be starting at Newtown this fall while his older brothers continue to attend St. Peter's. Is this ideal? No. But as a parent, I do recognize that things are progressing in the right direction. Of course there are issues that need attention, but saying that St. Peter's is a bad school because of problems that many others are facing isnt helpful and wont correct them.

  • DK
    June 29, 2013 - 14:22

    Look at Mary Queen of Peace very over crowded. East end grows school does not.

  • mundy
    June 29, 2013 - 12:28

    Add this to the growing list of blunders by the Blunderdale Govt. Jackman says the problems are caused by "growing pains", that took a lot of thought !!!

  • Paul
    June 29, 2013 - 10:54

    You guys have no idea what real overcrowding is. In 1969 staff at Br. Rice High School presented a schedule which had all the students attending classes from early in the morning to late afternoon including split schedules. The students didn't stand for this and went on strike. Yes the students went on strike and rotated around to other schools seeking their support. In the early 1970's I still had more than 35 in my class.

  • Tim Jamison
    June 29, 2013 - 10:01

    St. Peter's Elem. was a bad school back when I went to it in the mid '90s. It was sorely in need of major renovations. It was too small. It was also old and falling apart and constantly being vandalized. The cafeteria did not function for one day while I was there. I was told it was there, but I never actually saw it. Everyone ate in their classrooms. Unfortunately, this is how public schools work. There is little money so the infrastructure is poor, as is the quality of the staff and of the instruction. Send your children to private school if you can scrape together the money. It's the only way out

  • private schools
    June 29, 2013 - 09:36

    looks like the gov. and school boards are forcing parents to choose privates schools. Oh Danny Boy, why did you have to leave us so soon

  • Concerned parent
    June 29, 2013 - 09:13

    St. Peter's is just one school in the area with this problem of over population. Take a look at the 2 new schools in paradise. What about Beachy cove Elem and Holy Trinity Elem. although our elected MHAJackman (former teacher) does not comment on specific schools, he might get his head out of the clouds and help the "crisis" that many schools are facing. I know for fact that cafeterias are being used as both a place for over 800 children to eat and immediatly afte,classes ARE being taught. Students actually kick portions of sandwiches out of the way so they an sit on the floor. Duringinstructional time the custodian is dismantling table, sweeping the floors and using the electric scrubber to clean up as best as possible for our young learners. These portable classrooms? Ohh what a wonderful idea... But minister jack man you forgot that the children and teachers might need a drink of water or a bathroom break. When you are a young child it is not always easy to predict "I soon gotta pee". I could go on. As a teacher in a well over populated school and a child in another over populated school, I know what I'm talking about. Minister Jackman we need help. Why not visit us? Don't forget to check all the closets and storage areas because we are in there too.

  • Karen.Penney
    June 29, 2013 - 09:06

    Yes, there's always been an issue with overcrowding at St. Peter's Elementary in Mt. Pearl. This is attributed to it being neighbourhood school along with being designated as Early Immersion School in the Mt. Pearl area. There's clearly demand for the extra-curricular program. What I don't understand is if the situation is as deplorable as they say why are the parents not pulling their kids out and putting them in another school or why are the nearby school school councils (like Newtown) not piggy-backing onto this and welcoming families over? There's something not right here!!

  • Kim
    June 29, 2013 - 08:09

    Mr Jackman,If this was the school your children/grandchildren were attending,you'd PERSONALLY see to it that something was done and done as of yesterday..Your in MS D...YDALE'S pocket see what string's she can pull..Instead of trying to look good for Steven Harper's approval,and BLINDLY turning your back on the STUDENTS/PARENTS of this province..Have a backbone and Do what is right..Don't say your looking at 2014 school year,to make changes..THE TIME TO DO SOMETHING IS NOW..They installed new washrooms at the Confderation Building,and didn't need a a letter from QUEEN D.,,YDALE..Come September,keep the KIDS HOME..SEE WHAT SORT OF A REACTION you get then from HER HIGHNESS...PROBABLY NOTHING..SHE MAYBE OFF TO BIGGER AND BETTER THINGS..LOOKING to see what she can give away from the people of the province..AGAIN

  • Anne James
    June 29, 2013 - 07:48

    My son just finished his seventh year at this school and I can attest to the severe overcrowding at the school. Grades 4-6 students eat at their desks because use is limited tio K-3 students only. His band sessions were in the cafeteria. In Grades 4 and 5 he was situated in an extremely small classroom that was the result of a split classroom. The fact that iPads are going to be the basis of a "mobile computer lab" must be someone's idea of a sick joke...or conceived by someone who has no idea of the difference between an iPad and a computer. The iPads are to be supplemented by a couple of computers in each classroo - I have no idea how they are going to physically squeeze a couple of computers into the classrooms my son has been in over his years at the school. I am hopeful that my son's situation will improve at the junior high school he will be attending in September and I wish the parents of St. Peter's Elemtary the best of luck in their quest for better conditions for their children - the current situation is not acceptable.

  • RANDY from the ROCK
    June 29, 2013 - 07:47

    where is the great Steve Kent now. I guess he does not have any children in our school system. I bet in the coming years there will be money for schools to expand,election year.