A crowd of over 250 gathered at the Port Union Lions club last night, vowing to fight to keep their elementary school opened.
The Eastern School District in Newfoundland, in its five-year report release last week, recommended closure of Catalina Elementary School next June, and moving students from that school to Matthew Elementary in Bonavista.
The recommendations still require formal school board approval.
Other schools recommended for closure by the board are Swift Current Academy, Epiphany Elementary in Heart’s Delight, Whitbourne Elementary and Immaculate Conception in Colliers.
The crowd at Port Union last night was unanimous in their opinion that the local elementary school should stay open.
Grade 3 student Jackson Feehan was one of those who came to the microphone to share his thougts with the audience.
He said he liked Catalina Elementary and worries that he won’t be able to participate in after-school sports if he has to go to Matthew Elementary in Bonavista.
Kaitlin Rumbolt, who is a member of the local Sea Cadet Corps, pointed out the school is used after hours as a meeting place for Cadets.
She fears that if the school closes, the Cadets might be a casualty with their regular meeting place gone.
Local parent and community leader Tom Cooper said the school is the heart of the community. He spoke of the many activities, volunteer groups such as Sea Cadets, Scouts, and after school programs taking place at the school.
"It is the fitness center of our community," he said, adding that move to Bonavista would limit or even completely eliminate these programs.
Cooper also questioned the board’s predictions on enrollment for Catalina Elementary. According to Cooper, the enrollment predictions the board made five years ago are wrong, and the population of the school is stabilizing.
Cooper is also concerned that the children would be moving to an older building; Matthew Elementary is 40 years old.
He noted Catalina Elementary has a HVAC system, Matthew doesn’t. As well, he said, the Catalina school has a new playground and soccer field, funded by private donations and the Port Union Lions, a major contributor to the Catalina school.
"Other schools in Newfoundland need to look at this school as a model for other schools in the province," said Cooper, adding he cannot see one single benefit in moving children to Matthew Elementary.
Catherine Burt moved to the area two years ago.
Now they kick us when we’re down. - Catherine Burt, resident of Trinity Bay North
"It was a viable community, with the seal plant, fish plant and more businesses,” Burt said, " and a vibrant school. It’s still a good place to live; through no fault of our own, we lost the seal plant and the fish plant.
“Now they kick us when we’re down,” she said, calling the school board’s recommendation “a low blow."
Shelly Blackmore encouraged everyone to stick together, because "when we’re divided, we fall".
Mayor Brendan Peters offered the town council’s support, noting Catalina Elementary doesn't have the lowest enrollment.
Gary Blackmore chaired the meeting and encouraged people to express their points of view and counter the information being presented by Eastern School Board.
Residents of the area have started a letter-writing campaign to express their views, and are circulating a petition opposing the recommendation.
A “Friends of Catalina Elementary” Facebook page has also been set up to keep everyone informed on developments.
Bonavista South MHA Glen Little was invited to the meeting but was unable to attend. A representative from his office was there.
Little has been invited to the next regular meeting of the Trinity Bay North Town Council meeting, set for the afternoon of Oct. 15.
The council is encouraging local residents to attend that meeting, where the topic of Catalina Elementary will again be the focus of discussion.
Eastern School Board will hold a public meeting at Discovery Collegiate the following week, Oct. 22, to give local people a chance to express their views.
The board is also accepting written submissions regarding their recommendations until Oct. 30.
The board will vote on the proposed plan on Dec. 13.
Local parent Angela Cooper encouraged everyone at last night’s meeting to contact each and every board member and school trustee, every name on a list of officials distributed at the meeting as well as the media. She also encouraged children to write or draw pictures to explain what the school means to them and she will forward them to the government and media.
Meeting chair Blackmore reiterated, “We don’t want to stave off a gentle reprieve, we want to settle this issue. We want answers. Don’t let this issue die after you leave here."