School so crowded kids can't use bathroom: parents

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on June 29, 2013
St. Peter's Elementary School in Mount Pearl.
— Telegram file photo

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."

jmcleod@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramJames