The Board of Directors of the Public Schools Branch announced its decisions about P.E.I.'s school review process Monday — St. Jean Elementary and Georgetown Elementary should close, while Belfast Consolidated, St. Louis Elementary and Bloomfield Elementary should remain open.
The three-member board voted on the recommendations at a meeting at Bluefield High School in Hampshire, P.E.I.
The full meeting can be watched in its entirety on CBC P.E.I.'s Facebook.
"We have been impressed with the number and quality ... of the submissions [from the public]," said Susan Willis, chair of the board of directors, as she and Pat Mella and Harvey MacEwen took their seats.
The consultation process had been respectful, Willis said, adding, "we look forward to maintaining that same level of respect."
2 closures approved
As the board read the motion to close St. Jean Elementary School, some in the crowd erupted in protest, many leaping to their feet.
"We are rural, we are strong!" people chanted.
The same scene was repeated a few minutes later as the board supported closing Georgetown Elementary.
Mella and MacEwen supported the motion, noting low enrollment at St. Jean and the number of split classes, to more boos from the crowd. Mella said students in Georgetown "can be educated at nearby schools."
Belfast Consolidated, St Louis, Bloomfield stay
The board did not go along with all the closures recommended: it voted that Belfast Consolidated, St. Louis Elementary and Bloomfield Elementary schools should stay.
Mella's primary reason to keep Belfast was geography, noting "there is a real concern" about children being on buses too long, and highlighting the community's commitment to growing its population. MacEwen added he worried nearby schools would not be able to handle the extra students.
If St. Louis closed, MacEwen said there were concerns about young children spending too long on school buses. Mella added there were too many concerns expressed about the capacity of other nearby schools.
Working in Bloomfield Elementary's favour: replacing French immersion programming there would be difficult, MacEwen noted, and the school has also recently received significant upgrades.
Late French immersion will be added in Montague Intermediate, but not until fall 2018, and only if there is enough demand.
Some rezoning rejected, some approved
The board rejected recommendations to merge some of the Sherwood, Parkdale, Prince Street, West Royalty and L.M. Montgomery catchments in Charlottetown.
"While the recommendations attempted to address over-capacity at some schools, they did not address long-term solutions," said Mella.
Meanwhile, it recommended West Kent become a dual-track school offering French immersion, while West Royalty School continue to offer English only.
Students only in Stratford will be rezoned to Birchwood Intermediate in Charlottetown, but not students who attend Donagh Regional. The board said Birchwood would have ended up with an overcrowding problem if all students in the area were rezoned.
The board recommended changes in zoning to Charlottetown's three intermediate schools, to reduce overcrowding at Stonepark and fill up empty classrooms at Birchwood.
The board said it would proceed with a review of the Colonel Gray-Charlottetown Rural family of schools, to reduce travel time and the overlap of bus routes.
The board supported a motion that "immediate action be taken to add additional school infrastructure in the Stratford area" to address overcrowding at Stratford's two schools.
The board rejected rezoning of the Morell family of schools to allow students to continue attending schools they have traditionally attended.
MacEwen's motion that Morell High School be reconfigured in the future to become a combined intermediate/high school was supported by the board.
Cabinet gets final say on closures
The board of directors is able to make final decisions on rezoning or which grades will be in which schools, but if it recommends schools to close, those closures would have to be approved by cabinet.
The meeting's agenda notes that a summary of board decisions from this meeting will be available on the Public Schools Branch website, gov.pe.ca/edu/psb Tuesday.
'Props to them'
Reaction was swift on social media.
Some like Jenna Arbing tweeted "they made the tough calls that needed to be made."
Bonnie Stewart agreed: "Board thought & listened hard" she commented on Twitter.
Sherri Lannigan Stewart commented on Facebook: "Not happy for the school closures and taking kids from Stratford into downtown Charlottetown."
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