Parents make pleas for Petite school

by Michael Lee

Video by Brittany Wentzell & Emma Smith

Leitha Haysom may have left Petite Riviere as a young child, but when the time came to think of her family's future, she chose to go back.

"The community was definitely a draw," said Haysom, who was pregnant at the time she and her husband bought a house in Petite Riviere in July 2015.

The two had worked out of the country and lived in Mahone Bay, but they wanted their 18-month-old daughter to go to the same school her dad attended when he was a kid.

Haysom now takes her daughter to Petite Riviere Elementary School for a weekly play group and attends exercise classes there herself.

But she's frustrated that the school, along with Pentz Elementary School, is slated to close next year, a decision made by the South Shore Regional School Board back in 2013. "[They've] pushed a boulder off a cliff," said Haysom, "and they can't stop it from rolling down."

While the choice was made by the board in part because of a declining student population, Haysom and others say more young families have moved to the area since.

Marissa Hurtubise and her husband moved from Toronto and now live in Broad Cove, a few kilometres south of Petite Riviere, with their 14-month-old daughter.

"I wanted something that was more community based," she said. The couple work as paramedics at the Emergency Health Services Base in Liverpool and lived in Shelburne before moving to Lunenburg County.

Hurtubise also takes her daughter to the weekly "baby group" and said she's met other moms through it.

She said more young families are choosing to live in the area, and that it makes no sense to close the school now. "I don't know what I would do without it."

Critics say the school board has the ability to rescind its motions to close Pentz and Petite Riviere schools. Although an attempt was made by board member Jennifer Naugler in February to do just that, it proved unsuccessful after she was unable to get the necessary votes to proceed.

Since that meeting, Leif Helmer, chair of the School Advisory Council for Petite Riviere Elementary School, said plans are in place to set up a non-profit society, the Greater Petite Area Community Association, to advocate for the community.

Like others, Helmer believes the school board can reverse its decision. "They can definitely change their mind," he said. "There's no legal corner they've painted themselves in."

Members of the Pentz community have their own concerns. Speaking at a school board meeting on March 8, some parents explained the anxiety they and their children feel over not knowing where they'll go.

It's uncertain where the students would move, but the likely schools are Hebbville Academy and Bridgewater Elementary School.

Helmer said he's spoken to a lawyer who agrees the board can rescind its motions, and he plans to share that information with the school board and community.

Meanwhile, the board's own legal counsel maintains the decisions cannot be overturned due to the legislation in place at the time.

Applying for a judicial review is a possibility, although Helmer said they aren't on a "witch hunt" and are instead trying to find a possible solution, such as a renovation to Petite Riviere school.

"It just feels like we're running out of time," he said.

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