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Allow CBVRSB to Revisit School Closures

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Dear Mr. Churchill:

The Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board is currently reviewing boundaries for the Sydney area family of schools. The options were devised based on the data available to the board in 2016. Since that time, several things have happened that have caused people to question whether the decisions made at that time were the best decisions that could have been made. At a public meeting held on January 24, several points were raised with regard to the options being considered.

Firstly, your government has decided to roll out a pre-primary program, which is eventually to be offered in all elementary schools. The projected enrolment numbers upon which the board based its decisions in 2016 did not include students who would be enrolled in this program. As a result, we have a scenario in which two elementary schools will be consolidated into one, with an addition being built in order to accommodate the larger number of students. If pre-primary students are to be added at a later date, another addition will need to be built. Currently, the two elementary schools have enough available space to accommodate pre-primary classes.

Secondly, a major flood occurred in October of 2016 and had a significant impact on Brookland Elementary and the surrounding area. Homes in the area were demolished and it was declared a “no-build zone” due to the likelihood that a similar flood event could happen in the future. During the review process, the board had decided to close Brookland Elementary and convert it to what will be the middle school for the Sydney area. Given the likelihood of flooding in the future, the question arises as to whether it would be wise to invest so much money into renovating and expanding the school when it could continue to exist as an elementary school without renovations taking place.

Thirdly, a school advisory council member from Sherwood Park Education Centre pointed out that the enrolment projections for that school were lower than the actual enrolment numbers. There is room in this school to house Sydney’s middle school students and the French immersion program for the Sydney family of schools. The program will potentially be forced out of Whitney Pier Memorial when that school becomes a P-8 school in 2020. The long-term possibility of SPEC becoming a P-8 school should enrolments continue to decline was also raised. When asked whether the board could revisit its 2016 decision to close this school, Board Chair, Steve Parsons, informed those present that the province has placed a freeze on the school review process, thus preventing the board from reconsidering its decision.

Finally, your government has made the decision to dissolve the elected school boards in the province. This raises many questions about whether the Board’s previous decisions will still be binding and whether the elected members currently hold the authority to make changes to the boundaries going forward. The boundary changes will take effect at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, but you stated that you were optimistic that boards could be dissolved as early as next year.

What we are asking is that you allow the Board to revisit its 2016 decisions in light of the information we now have available to us in order to ensure that the best decision can be made for our children. If you are unable to do this, perhaps you could delay implementation of the decisions until a new governing body is in place that has the authority to review the decisions. We need to make the best long-term plans we can to meet the needs of the children and community members of Sydney. Given the circumstances, a more informed decision could now be made if the Board was allowed to revisit the decisions it made in 2016.

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