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Red Bay students will return to class Monday; pending outcome of school board review

Protestors at Basque Memorial Academy in Red Bay hold signs questioning the decision to cut back the number of teachers at the school to one and to remove French from the school’s curriculum.
Protestors at Basque Memorial Academy in Red Bay hold signs questioning the decision to cut back the number of teachers at the school to one and to remove French from the school’s curriculum. - Contributed

Students returning to school, but parents could pull them out again

RED BAY, N.L.

NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

CANADA

Protests at Basque Memorial School have ended, and students are returning to class on Monday, Sept 24, at least temporarily.

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) confirmed to The Northern Pen on Friday, Sept. 21, that it is planning to send officials to Red Bay next week.

The Program Specialist, Student Support Services and the Itinerant Guidance Counsellor for the Labrador region will be in Red Bay on Monday to assess the programing needs of students.

Both the school district and parents have confirmed for The Northern Pen that the students will be there.

Following the review, the board says it will determine next steps and follow up with the school community.

The assessment comes in the wake of a three-week long protest at the Red Bay school.

It started on the first scheduled day of class on Sept 5.

Parents barred the entrance to the building and kept their children home to protest the NLESD decision to cut the number of teaching positions at the school from 1.5 in 2017-18 to one for this school year, 2018-19.

The school has an expected attendance of eight students this year, across five grades from kindergarten to Grade 8.

Parents expressed concerns to The Northern Pen about the amount of instructional time the teacher would have for each student across five grades.

They want the half teaching unit reinstated.

The protest continued every week day from Sept 5 to Sept 20.

Police were on site, monitoring the situation each day.

Parent and protestor Vicki Hancock told The Northern Pen that if nothing is in place by Thursday, the parents will remove the students from class again.

NLESD has expressed concerns to The Northern Pen about the amount of instructional time the children are missing.

“The District is very concerned for the students and the important instruction they are missing each day they are away from school. Their yearly studies should be well underway,” the district outlined in a prepared statement. “However, it is still early in the year, and there may be opportunities to mitigate the impact of the lost time if children return to class now.”

NLESD says it has maintained an open dialogue with the parents and has responded to questions and concerns raised in writing and through video-conferencing.

However, Lynn Stone, one of the parents protesting, told The Northern Pen she felt NLESD never answered their questions or addressed their concerns.

The school district confirmed to The Northern Pen that a senior district official with the Labrador regional office and the principal gained access to the school and student files on Wednesday, Sept 19.

This was done in order to observe the classroom configuration and assess the school’s daily routine.

“The District had offered to have the official observe the classroom configuration and assess the school’s daily routine. But the front door remained chained and the students did not attend,” the school district noted in its statement to the Northern Pen. “The principal and District official entered through the back door.”

The school district denied claims that the school district official and principal were escorted out of the building by RCMP, but confirmed RCMP was onsite to monitor the situation.

“The RCMP did not escort them from the building, but an officer was onsite to monitor activity and ensure their safety as the level of protest had escalated to the point where this had become a concern,” the statement read.

For the protestors, Stone told The Northern Pen she felt NLESD made a bad situation worse as the district official did not talk with the parents.

Reason for the reduction

NLESD maintains its rationale for reducing the number of teaching units at Basque Memorial School.

In the prepared statement to the Northern Pen, the district said, “With respect to the allocation of one teaching unit . . . the allocation is comparable with schools of similar enrolment and grade configuration. There are a number of “sole charge” schools in the province and the teaching principals have expertise in delivering curriculum to all students within those schools.

“The allocation of one unit for September, 2018, was based on a projection of eight students in five grades. The allocation of 1.5 units for last year (September 2017) was based on a projection of 12 students in eight grades. In the 2017 projection, one student was slated to avail of high school programming. However, only six of the projected 12 students arrived at the school when it opened in September, 2017. Due to collective agreement restrictions, the District was unable to adjust the allocation of teaching units for the school at that time, despite the enrolment of fewer students.”

NLESD says the cost of adding a half teaching unit would depend on the seniority of the individual accepting the position. The district estimates the salary would likely be between $40,000-$45,000 with benefits.

However, the district notes, it cannot consider requests for extra allocations for specific school communities without considering the impact on the entire province.

“When it comes to the allocation of resources, all schools must be treated equitably,” the district noted in its statement.

stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca

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