Petite Riviere and Pentz elementary schools will officially remain open this fall after the South Shore Regional School Board announced Tuesday it will not appeal a recent judge’s ruling that quashed a motion to close the schools.
Spokeswoman Theresa Schroder said after reviewing last week’s ruling by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge and discussing the matter with the minister of education, the board has decided not to appeal and the schools will not close.
Seventy-three students in Grades Primary to 6 at Pentz, which is about 14 kilometres outside Bridgewater on the LaHave River, and 83 students at Petite Riviere, about 20 kilometres southeast of Bridgewater on the Atlantic coast, were slated to attend nearby Hebbville Academy in September.
Last week, Justice Christa Brothers quashed the board’s 2013 motion to eventually close Petite Riviere school, nullifying a subsequent motion last year setting the closure date for this fall. In her written decision the judge said the initial decision was conditional on construction of a new school that was never built.
In addition, the board should have followed new school closure guidelines enacted by the province the following year, she said.
The chairwoman of the community group that launched the legal challenge said she was pleased the board would not be appealing the judge’s decision, but said Petite Riviere and other small schools still need to prepare for the possibility of closure in the future.
“We were really happy to hear that the schoolboard is not appealing that ruling, so that’s
a big relief, and hearing with certainty that we’ll be open next year along with our neighbouring school, Pentz Elementary,” said Stacey Godsoe, head of the Greater Petite Area Community Association.
“We know we have a year, for sure, and hopefully beyond that. It’s hard to say what kind of amendments to the Education Act could potentially (start) another new school review process and how that will all be considered going forward for us.”
The ruling didn’t specifically refer to Pentz school, but it was included in the original motion and the school board decided to keep it open along with Petite Riviere because “student enrolment, building condition and budget implications are almost identical,” board chairwoman Theresa Griffin said in a news release.
Students and parents at Pentz are also extremely happy with the decision, said school advisory council co-chairman Allen Sullivan.
“They’re ecstatic,” he said. “I mean they’re right over the moon. I was down this morning serving breakfast and the kids were bouncing off the walls and teachers’ footprints were on the ceiling.
“We’re so happy for the kids in Pentz and we’re also happy for the children in Petite because kids in both schools are going to be able to go to school in their own community and this is what we’ve been hoping for for five years .”
Sullivan said although Petite Riviere community members were more vocal in opposition to the closure, parents and community members were no less passionate at Pentz.
“It was just sometimes you learn that you need to be patient and wait,” he said.
Closing the school would have been “devastating” for the entire community, Sullivan said.
“I know there are a lot of empty houses along this road in the Pentz district. People looked at buying, then changed their minds because the school was going to close, so they went and bought elsewhere,” he said.
Schroder said reversing the closure decision will have little impact on the Hebbville school, which currently houses about 500 students in Grades Primary to 9, because the transition of students from Pentz was only in the planning stages.
In her ruling, Brothers blasted the board, saying it “breached its duty of fairness by failing to follow the province’s new school closure process in 2014,” which she called a “serious” breach.
“The board failed to follow, in any respect, the school review process prior to its 2017 motion. I cannot and will not excuse this abject failure to observe the duty of procedural fairness.”
The board objected to some of the strong language in the ruling, and Supt. Scott Milner said the board considered appealing on several grounds, but decided against it in part because the province is in the process of eliminating school boards altogether.
“The board met in camera on Friday night with their legal counsel and reviewed the (judge’s) decision and points of concern in the decision, and really on principle desired to appeal this, because there are points they don’t agree with Justice Brothers,” he told The Chronicle Herald.
“But the boards know their end date and they know their future, but they are on some uncertain ground, so considering the environment they are in, they just decided not to appeal.”