Parents and residents of Whitbourne cheer and embrace as the school board announces that Whitbourne Elementary will remain open.
— Photo by Josh Pennell/The Telegram
A decision on Wednesday night that Whitbourne Elementary would not be closing as previously planned was met with thunderous applause by parents and residents of the community.
The board first announced plans for school amalgamations at the end of 2012 and students at Whitbourne would be bused about 19 kilometres to Woodland Elementary in Dildo.
At least that was the plan.
Public outcry and protests from parents and residents of Whitbourne put the kibosh on those plans, at least tentatively.
Parents argued the reasons for the school’s closure were never clearly laid out for the public. They felt so strongly about this that they were taking the case to court when the school board relented.
The Eastern School District published a more detailed reasoning for the proposed closures and offered to restart the process with a new round of public hearings that would let protestors voice their reasons why the school should remain.
On Wednesday night, the board voted anonymously by paper ballot, to keep the school open.
Brianna Mercer, 21, who has no children, sat in the crowd crying for much of the proceedings. Those tears turned to joy when the decision came in to keep the school open.
“I went to school (here) from K to 6 and I know how phenomenal a school it is,” she said.
Mercer is in university with the hopes of becoming a teacher.
“I want to teach at Whitbourne Elementary so I’m really glad the opportunity is still going to be there.”
Whitbourne Elementary School council chairwoman Patti Kennedy lobbied hard to have the school remain open. She commended the support the council had received from people in its task and spoke about the children who would now benefit from staying in their own community for to be educated.
“To be able to stay in your hometown, especially for the 37, 38 kids that have never ridden the bus before — you know to tell them now that experience will only be confined to field trips — I think they’ll be quite happy with that.”
Kennedy added the council was looking forward to working with the school board.
“We as a council and a community look forward to working with the board as the months and years hopefully come our way.”
Milton Peach, chairman of the Eastern School District, said it went through the same consultation process this time and looked at all the additional information they had received. As for why the decision was different, Peach didn’t point to any particular reason, choosing instead to praise the process.
“I guess the simple answer is that democracy is alive and well,” he said.
He added that the board is prepared to hear people out and make the best decisions it can based on information and opinions.
“That’s what we’re about.”
When pushed a little further as to what swayed the vote this time, Peach spoke about the people who rallied hard for their town.
“I think it’s fair to say with regard to Whitbourne that there were very compelling arguments made of the viability of Whitbourne,” he said.
He added that people spoke passionately about their growing community and the school that they felt was best for the children of their town.
When asked which way he voted last time compared to this, Peach was coy.
“I’m not really prepared to do that because it would destroy the purpose of a paper ballot,” he said with a grin.
A vote was also taken on whether to close Epiphany Elementary in Heart’s Delight-Islington.
The board voted to close that school as planned. Those students will be bused 17 kilometres to Acreman Elementary in Green’s Harbour.