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Rural schools coalition formed to fight N.B. school closures

Above: Parents and communities think the decision to close some rural schools is unfair and want more time to prove their importance.

FREDERICTON – A provincial coalition of parents and representatives from across New Brunswick has formed, calling for a moratorium on school closures.

Parents and community members from at least 12 different schools are calling for the repeal of Policy 409, which covers the closure of schools.

“From Dorchester to Dalhousie, from Brown’s Flat to Riverside-Albert, there are groups, twelve in total, that have come together to fight the school closures,” said Paul Bennett, an education consultant.”They claim that it’s being rushed, they don’t have ample time to prepare, and the decisions have already been made.”

The group is asking that a new school review process be launched, with a focus on the development of community hub schools.

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A community hub school would see community groups or programs rent space within the building for their own use. Three schools in Nova Scotia are working towards this model, and believe they can make between $50-$90,000 a year.

READ MORE: 12 schools in New Brunswick up for possible closure 

“It was devastating to turn on the radio in the morning and hear that it’s being announced by Zoe Watson that it was up for closure,” said Cindy Richards of Brown’s Flat.

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Richards said the community has been fighting ever since to convince their District Education Council (DEC) to keep Brown’s Flat Elementary open.

Last year, the community of Brown’s Flat had received permission from the DEC to build a new playground. The $70,000 playground was recently finished and opened to students.

“Do they not realize how much work is involved to raise that kind of money in a small community?” said Sandra Speight.

READ MORE: Education councils vote to close 3 N.B. schools, consolidate 2 others

Many are asking what their community would become if their school closes. Nine of the 12 schools have fewer than 100 students and most are in rural communities.

“It’s just a waterfall effect, it snow balls, it’s not just a school leaving a community, it’s people moving,” said Marie-Claude Michaud of St. George.

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Pennfield Elementary in St. George has been recommended by the DEC for closure.

“We have pizza Friday, and the local pizza place brings the pizza for the kids. We have hot lunch that we cook every Wednesday and we buy supplies from the local grocery store so all of that money, it stops,” said Michaud.

READ MORE: New policy to trigger reviews of N.B. schools with low enrolment 

“I have two children currently in Dorchester Consolidated, I have one child who’s a hopeful for 2016 and my kids are ninth generation to our community,” said Kaitlyn Olive.

“Everybody knows it’s not a positive feeling. But I look at the entire province as a whole. If I leave the community, I’m going to leave the entire province.”

The group has ideas on how to better use the schools. They’re just hoping the government will listen.

Ultimately, the decision to close the school rests with Education Minister Serge Rousselle, but he receives his recommendations from the districts.

Education Minister Serge Rousselle did meet with the group Tuesday morning. The coalition said he listened to their concerns and ideas and were told he will get back to them.

The full list of schools that could be closed:

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  • Dalhousie Regional High School – 253 students (consolidation with Dalhousie Middle)
  • Dalhousie Middle School – 97 students
  • Norton Elementary – 82 students
  • Brown’s Flat Elementary – 43 students
  • Pennfield Elementary – 59 students
  • Lorne Middle School – 50 students
  • Dorchester Consolidated – 64 students
  • Riverside Consolidated – 45 students
  • Stanley High School – 147 students (consolidation with Stanley Elementary)
  • Stanley Elementary School – 125 students
  • Coles Island School – 30 students
  • Bath Middle School – 44 students

Dalhousie Regional High and Dalhousie Middle operate under the same roof. The district is only considering consolidating the two school’s administration. The same is being considered for Stanley High and Stanley Elementary.