In what looks like another stunning victory for South Shore parents, Pentz Elementary School will not be closing for this coming school year, according to the co-chair of the Pentz Elementary School School Advisory Council.
Allen Sullivan said the superintendent made an announcement last night on behalf of the South Shore Regional School Board (SSRSB)board and the education minister that the school will remain open.
This follows a February 13 ruling in which the Honourable Justice Christa Brothers denounced the SSRSB’s motion on March 22, 2017 to close the Petite Rivière Elementary School in July 2018.
Pentz was closed in the same motion but did not challenge it in court as the Greater Petite Area Community Association did.
In the caustic conclusion of her 34-page written judgment, the justice declared, “The 2017 motion closing Petite Rivière is set aside as a violation of the duty of procedural fairness.”
This was the same motion that would have seen Pentz closed July 31, 2018.
“We are over the moon ecstatic that the students of both Pentz and Petite will be able to continue their education in their own community,” said Sullivan.
“We wish to thank the board and the minister for making what we regard as the right decision,” Sullivan said in an email. “The past is now behind us and now we can concentrate on the present and the future.”
Laura Brown, co-chair of the Pentz School Advisory Council, said she is pleased with the outcome and that it affirmed the concerns and representations that Pentz made throughout the process to the school board, other officials and within the community.
“The entire process has shown the strength and dedication of both the school communities at Pentz and Petite to find a solution that would be best for the students and families involved,” said Brown, who has two children who attend the school.
The SSRSB will not be appealing the ruling of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. As well, because the motion included Pentz Elementary School, the SSRSB requested permission from the Minister of Education to keep Pentz open.
“The 2013 motions called for the closure of both schools,” said Theresa Griffin, SSRSB Chair. “In light of Justice Christa Brothers’ decision to keep Petite Rivière Elementary open, it is only right that Pentz Elementary remain open, as student enrollment, building condition and budget implications are almost identical.”
In her written decision, Justice Brothers noted that while Nova Scotia’s courts have been “loath” to interfere with a board’s decision to close a school, “this is a unique situation where the Board itself did not afford a school community the procedural fairness required. Furthermore, the Board’s confusion and lack of clarity produced unreasonable interpretations.
“This was not just a matter of some procedural missteps. The decisions resulted in unreasonable, interpretive errors and breaches of fairness,” said Brothers.
SSRSB’s Chair Griffin added in a press release. “While we are not appealing the ruling of Justice Brothers, we are very disappointed with the tone of her ruling, the statements in the ruling, and the implication that free discussion among elected board members may be used against them in a judicial review. However, in light of the decision, we feel it is only right that Pentz students and families have the opportunity to keep their school open as well.”
Superintendent Scott Milner said no staffing changes have been made at Petite, Pentz or Hebbville, just some behind-the-scenes planning work. He said, too, that the school board kept up with repairs in the schools that were slated to close, but will welcome students in the fall.
“They are aging facilities that are half-filled with students right now and the board at the time were looking at those factors and other factors around programming and made a decision back in 2013, but from that time forward all necessary repairs and all improvements that were in the board’s ability were done to those facilities. In no way were they neglected.”
Milner added: “The minister has released a directive to all school boards in Nova Scotia, that no new school reviews will occur until [Education] Minister Churchill says so. There will be no school reviews moving forward in the near future until the minister’s office declares that that’s a possibility. And that hasn’t happened as of yet.”