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Red Bay parents keep their kids from school


Protesting cutbacks at Basque Memorial School

Students are heading back to school all across the province today, but not in the town of Red Bay.

On Wednesday morning, 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 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. Also, a French course was no longer being offered.

Vicki Hancock, a parent, told the Northern Pen they let the government know at the time they would not be sending their kids to school in September unless something changed.

July and August passed but the decision stood.

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?”

Hancock 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 Hancock said there were plans to continue the protest on Thursday morning.

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 handles the rest 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 km away, and Basque Memorial has remained open despite low enrollment.

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (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.

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