There was a mixture of emotion and logic among the almost 200-strong crowd at Discovery Collegiate gymnasium in Bonavista on Monday evening.
They came to a public hearing called by the board of directors of Eastern School District to denounce the board's recommended closure of Catalina Elementary, located about 20 kilometers away in the municipality of Trinity Bay North.
However, it was a loaded question of both logic and emotion that fired the crowd into a frenzy.
It was posed to the ESD's committee by a parent whose son attends Catalina Elementary.
"Why is this meeting held here in this school?" asked Michelle Lodge as the room erupted behind her.
Discovery happens to be the feeder high school for Matthew Elementary - also located in Bonavista - which is the school Catalina area students would be bussed to if the board follows through on its recommendation to close Catalina Elementary.
"Is it because you did not think there would be enough support for Catalina Elementary here?" continued Lodge, "Well, you are wrong gentleman!"
That volley came at the end of the second 10-minute presentation of the evening, one of 17 given on Monday, and all by those who wish to see Catalina Elementary remain open.
The presentations alternated between impassioned pleas to full-throated assaults on the ESD's mission statement.
Don Burt gave a presentation on behalf of TBN's town council. He focused on the continued plight of the municipality and stated this next decision (regarding the school) may be the proverbial nail in the coffin.
"As I'm sure you are aware, Trinity Bay North has had some significant blows in the last year," said the councillor and retired educator of 32 years.
Burt spoke about the economic recovery the plan the municipality has been working on in the wake of the closure of two large local employers - OCI and NuTan Furs - and the loss of over 200 jobs.
"Integral to our plan is to have a community school. Only weeks after we set up that committee, we hear we don't have the heart of our community, Catalina Elementary. This cannot be interpreted any other way than severe disrespect of our community.
"It's a well-known fact that once all schools are taken from a community, that community is deemed dead or dying."
Roger Cullimore, another concerned parent from the area, spoke about the amenities available at Catalina Elementary as opposed to the alternative school, Matthew Elementary.
He cited the Matthew building as being twice as old as Catalina Elementary, has known mildew issues (which he said has resulted in the closure of the school's gym twice this school year), no playground or soccer field, no microwaves in the canteen and no HVAC system and no lockers for students.
On the other hand, he said, Catalina has all of those and more, including a wider array of extra-curricular activities and more education-based software (most of which was donated by TBN's Lions Club).
What the school doesn't have is mildew.
"At the end of the day, students will travel longer on a bus to get to school. It's not just education that's showing through, it's the overwhelming support the school gets," said Cullimore, ending on another popular speaking point for the night.
Before the meeting, a well-known radio open line show host, Peter Soucy, emphasized his personal support for Catalina, stating the province, "needs more schools like Catalina Elementary, not less."
Cullimore concluded his presentation by reminding the committee what Soucy did for a living before comedy and radio.
"By the way, Pete Soucy is an educator," he said.
Christine Lony's presentation disputed the declining enrollment figures presented by the ESD and offered another look at census and enrollment figures for the region, based on Statistics Canada census numbers.
She said the board's predicted enrollment of 102 was actually off by four students, and said more children are expected for the following year.
She also found the trend of declines in population for the region was turning around and the result was more children in the area,
In 2006, the census said 58 students would be attending the local school, but the following school year the enrollment was 74.
"More than projected," Lony emphasized.
She followed the numbers up with a side-by-side comparison if the two schools and suggested that Catalina Elementary not only offers more for its students, but should those students be bussed to Matthew, they would lose out on after-school extra-curricular activity because many would have to take the bus home following the school day.
When Shelly Lane took the podium, she asked the committee what they think this decision will have on those with learning disabilities, "like one of my boys."
She said her son was diagnosed with a language-based disorder in Grade 3, and has found that the smaller class sizes and availability of one-on-one teaching has provided an environment for her son to thrive academically.
"Due to the dedication my son received at Catalina, he excels at reading, writing and other aspects. He is up to par with all the other students in his class. He enjoys going to school," she said.
Roxanne Doody had a similar story, except her son has Cerebral Palsy; he does not cope will with change but thrives under routine.
"My son Ryan does not like change," she said, explaining about how she would bring him to school days before the start date so he could get used to the routine.
Those days weren't easy for her or her son, she said, and the decision to have him move schools again will only undo all the work she and the educators at Catalina Elementary have put in.
"But now that my son is used to his classmates, which he calls his friends, if he has to change school, we will have to go through that all over again."
By the time Angela Feehan, the final presenter of the night, took the podium, the committee members were beginning to look tired.
However, she wasn't about to let them off easy.
"I suggest that you board members resign and be replaced with members who know what they are talking about," began Feehan, who went on to dare the ESD to follow through with their recommendation.
"I urge that you try to close the school. You think we are fighting now? If you try to close the school, it will be an all-out war.
"I recommend you try to take the computers, the whiteboards, the gym equipment, the instruments, desks, chairs, and of course our lockers and move them to Matthew. We watched them take equipment out of our plant and as God is our witness, you won't get so much as a pencil.
"In 2013 the only thing going to Bonavista on a bus, will be the bus driver."
Prior to the meeting, ESD Chair Milton Peach told the Packet the evening's consultation is just part of the ongoing process and that nothing about the recommendation is set in stone.
"First of all it's about the system, and it's a proposal only. Not only will we be listening tonight with open ears - we want to hear what people are offering as alternatives - but we will go back as a board and put our thoughts together and see what we would really recommend at the end of the day.
"We have to look at enrollments, facilities, transportation, programming and resources," he said.
Bonavista MHA Glen Little was on hand for the meeting and said that while it is important for him to show his support for all members of his community, in the case of school closures, the education and health of students must come first.
"I certainly want to see the same resolution that the parents, teachers, and students of Catalina Elementary want, and that is for the Catalina Elementary to remain open. I am optimistic that at the end of the process, the Eastern School Board will make decisions in the best interest of the students," he said,
Little said he met recently with education minister Clyde Jackman, ESD chairperson Milton Peach, and ESD director Dr. Bruce and told them how the closure of the school may inadvertently affect the region.
"This may make it more difficult to redevelop economic stability in the region of Trinity Bay North. I will work hard to do what I can to appeal to the board the importance of keeping this school open," said Little.