© Jeff Elliott
What would be future students of Bayview Regional Collegiate display signs letting people know they don't want to be bused to school in St. Anthony.
ST. LUNAIRE-GRIQUET — Residents and students of the St. Lunaire-Griquet area continue to fight a decision to close a school and bus its students to St. Anthony.
Since the discussion to close Bayview Regional Collegiate arose in early 2008, people of the area professed their opposition to the closure and busing students from Grades 7-12 to St. Anthony.
The Western School District staff and board of trustees hosted public consultations in the town at the time and invited feedback through a variety of means. Despite opposition, later that year the board of trustees voted the action forward.
Disapproval has continued, and the board turned down a presentation to revisit the decision in 2010. The issue has come to the forefront again this week with a protest held at the town’s fire hall Saturday and a rally at the school Monday afternoon.
Dale Colbourne, a resident and town councillor, said people are unsatisfied and frustrated with the silence of the school board and government officials. She claims no explanation was ever provided to their satisfaction as to why the school has to be closed. About 120 people — residents and students — attended Monday’s rally.
Students will be bused from eight communities and as far away as L’Anse aux Meadows, a bus ride that would take about 45 minutes, according to Colbourne. She is concerned about this travel in adverse weather conditions, inadequate snowclearing, and without cellphone coverage.
There is also a letter campaign underway to various levels of government and the board of trustees and district staff. She said letters had been previously written to the board — to which she claims there has been no response — and correspondence to the minister of education and premier received replies to contact the board.
“We’d like to at least talk to somebody,” she said. “We elected these people, the least they can do is answer us. My God, we deserve that much.”
Colbourne said they are seeking a reversal of the decision. There should remain one school in the area accommodating all 95 K-12 students, she recommends. Next year, there is scheduled to be 48 Grade 7-12 students attending the K-12 school in St. Anthony, while 40 K-6 students will continue going to Truman Eddison Memorial. She said the more suitable decision would be to combine those two schools to form one K-12 facility in St. Lunaire-Griquet.
Meanwhile, protestors have the support of The Straits-White Bay North MHA Chris Mitchelmore. The NDP representative said the decision needs to be revisited and that it’s unfair local residents continue to ask for answers and don’t get them.
He attended both Saturday’s protest and Monday’s rally. He has also written to various government members, district staff and board officials, and said he will continue to press the issue.
Meanwhile, Ross Elliott, director of education with the Western School District, said it is up to the board whether to revisit the decision. He said the people’s views were considered during the original process. He also said the board decided not to revisit the decision when the issue arose again in 2010, and he would recommend not doing so now.
“I do understand the sensitivities around the closure of any school and the valid attachments that students and the community would have to schools,” he said. “Our focus has to be on providing the best educational opportunity for students.”
Elliott said the declining numbers at Bayview have a particularly negative impact at the high school level, and transferring the students to a larger school would provide them more opportunities.
The director of education said the enrollment at the elementary school in St. Lunaire-Griquet continues, but there is no plan to discuss the future of that school.
He said students in Grades 7-12 will have a greater course load to choose from at the new school as well as more access to specialty courses and teachers. He also said the transportation distances are comparable to other schools throughout the province, while buses would be equipped with communication devices. When it comes to extracurricular activities for out of town students, there are alternative times and transportation methods that can be arranged, he said.