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Public Schools Branch decisions met with mixed emotions

Rural P.E.I. parents and community members react to some of the Public Schools Branch’s decisions during last night’s meeting at Bluefield High School.
Rural P.E.I. parents and community members react to some of the Public Schools Branch’s decisions during last night’s meeting at Bluefield High School.

HAMPSHIRE - Parents wept tears of joy and anger last night.

Emotions ran high during the Public Schools Branch special meeting at Bluefield High School, where Georgetown Elementary and St. Jean Elementary were both officially recommended for closure.

Mallory Peters, president of Georgetown Home and School, said the decision was frustrating for the many parents who’ve lobbied the PSB for the past several months.

“It’s very upsetting,” said Peters, noting that the two schools were both previously slated to close in 2009 but were saved by parents’ efforts. “It’s just like we’ve been saying all along, they’re pushing through that 2008 report and taking off where they left off. It’s very, very frustrating.”

Georgetown mayor Lewis Lavandier said the decision was devastating.

“Rural communities here on the Island spoke out and made their case quite clear, this is not the way to go and the process has been flawed from the get go,” he said. “It fell on deaf ears. We’re totally disappointed with the system, and I’m certainly hoping the premier and minister will look at this differently. Because it’s not right.”

Provincial cabinet will ultimately have the final say on any closures.

Stacy Toms of Georgetown Home and School Association said the decision was disappointing but not a surprise.

“We were glad to hear other schools were saved and we’ll expect to hear government do the same for Georgetown and St. Jean tomorrow.”

Janna-Lynne Durant, president of St. Jean Home and School Association, said her school is “not ready to give up.”

“We’re going to continue fighting and we’re going to be loud and we’ll be heard,” she said.

Lynne said she was also surprised to hear the PSB’s recommendation that the department look to add school infrastructure in the L.M. Montgomery, Sherwood and West Royalty area.

“That’s not OK. The reasons they gave us (for closure) in the report was we need too many upgrades for a new roof and new boiler, but they can’t afford to,” she said. “But they can afford to build a brand new school four blocks from us.”

The meeting saw a group comprised mainly of Georgetown parents near the front stand up and shout, “We are Rural, We are Strong” whenever resolutions involving closures were brought up.

However, there were many times through the night when the crowd applauded the PSB’s decisions, including when it was announced that it would not accept recommendations to close schools in Belfast, Bloomfield and St. Louis.

Marcella Ryan, president of the Belfast Home and School Association, was overcome with emotion when she realized her community’s school would remain open.

“It was pretty emotional,” said Ryan. “It’s just a great feeling of relief.”

However, Ryan noted the community’s work isn’t done.

“We’re going to work at insulating the school from ever having to go through this again,” said Ryan. “We’re sad to hear the news of Georgetown and St. Jean and we’re certainly still very supportive of those schools and will be until they get the result they’re looking for.”

Peters said since the recommendation is not final, the group plans to keep lobbying government.

Peters and a number of other parents from both schools slated for closure are planning on lobbying the province during the legislature this evening.

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