RED BAY, N.L.
NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
Students were headed back to school all across the province last week, but not in the town of Red Bay.
On Wednesday morning, Sept. 6 concerned parents and locals locked up the doors and staged a protest in response to staff and course cutbacks at Basque Memorial School for the 2018-19 school year.
Protestors chained up the doors and placed signs at the entrance which proclaimed, “Closed due to staff shortage” and “Our kids deserve better.”
There are eight students enrolled at the school in five different grades from kindergarten to Grade 8.
The protest comes after parents learned in the spring that teaching positions will be cut from 1.5 in 2017-18 to one in 2018-19.
Five parents participated in the protest along with some grandparents and other concerned locals.
Some of them carried signs declaring the importance of students having the option to learn French, while others asked how one teacher was going to teach such a wide range of grades.
One student held a sign asking, “Do I matter?”
Lynn Stone, one of the parents protesting, told The Northern Pen she was concerned about the amount of instructional time the teacher will have for each student.
She stresses her issue isn’t with a teacher having to teach eight students, but with the wide range of grades they will have to instruct together.
“Five grades with one teacher is giving our kids 12 minutes of instructional time per grade, provided there are no disruptions,” said Stone. “The teacher here has to follow the same guidelines, teach the same curriculum and meet the same outcomes as every other teacher in this province and is not even being given quarter the time to do it.”
Vicki Hancock, another parent who participated in the protest, says parents also have safety concerns.
“If one (student) gets hurt who will look after the other children?” she asked.
The protest continued until around 1 p.m. and was held again on Thursday, Friday and into the following week.
Questioning the decision-making
In June, the parents received a letter notifying them of the decision.
They responded and asked for the decision to be reviewed due to what they claim is incorrect information.
Hancock told The Northern Pen they also let the government know at the time they would not be sending their children to school in September unless something changed.
July and August passed but the decision stood.
The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District’s (NLESD) letter indicates that enrolment had decreased by five students from the 2017-18 school year to 2018-19.
This was taken into consideration when the cut was made.
But according to Stone, this isn’t true.
She says in September 2017, there were six students enrolled. In March, one student transferred to the school and now they had a student enrolling in kindergarten.
Therefore, she says the enrolment actually increased by two.
Stone calls this a “very big mistake”.
Basque Memorial enrolls students from Red Bay and is one of two schools in the Labrador Straits area.
Labrador Straits Academy in L’Anse au Loup includes the remainder of the students on the coast from Pinware to L’Anse au Clair.
However, Red Bay students would have to travel further to attend the L’Anse au Loup school, about 50 kilometres away, and Basque Memorial has remained open despite low enrolment.
The NLESD released a statement to The Northern Pen explaining that teaching allocations are provided annually based on the anticipated enrolment.
"The allocation to Basque Memorial is comparable to schools of similar size," the statement continued. "The school is also provided support through an Itinerant Guidance Counsellor, Safe and Inclusive Schools Itinerant Teacher, Program Specialists, and other staff at the District level."
"There are circumstances where student enrolment changes from the time teaching units are deployed in the spring to when school reopens in September. If this occurs, the District reviews the changes in enrolment to determine whether extra resources are required. We will confirm the enrolment at Basque Memorial once students report to school."
The district also says it's exploring a number of options to deliver French programming to the school, as it does with various course offerings in small schools throughout the province.
It acknowledged the rights of parents and school communities to demonstrate peacefully and express their opinions but hoped the protest would not result in the loss of instructional time for students.
Stone told The Northern Pen the parents don’t intend to give in.
“We’re determined to do whatever it takes,” she said.