Low enrolment may force closure of junior high program

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

At least one man is pleading for Northland School Division to keep its junior high school program operating next year.

“Don’t wreck a good thing,” said Dean Auger at a public meeting May in the school gym.
“Don’t hurt the kids. Leave the school open.”

It was the second public meeting held to discuss the possible closure of the junior high school program. The first held March 21 drew a few dozen people. The May 5 meeting drew only a handful of interested parents and community members, perhaps in part due to a funeral at Whitefish.

At the core of any decision to close the program is very low enrolment. There are only eight students in Grades 7-9 with most already attending school in High Prairie.

Northland Supt. of Schools Donna Barrett reminded people that no decision has been made yet. She also reported on the surveys taken in Grouard of parents.

“We were left with a feeling there is a range of preferences,” said Barrett.

Therefore, it can’t bode well for those wanting to keep the program as there is no huge public outcry to keep it.

“The community is not speaking with one voice,” said Barrett.

The decision to keep the junior high program operating will come at the end of May board meeting so parents can plan for the next school year if no junior high school is offered at Grouard.

Some parents were critical of the policies and alleged racism at High Prairie.

“My son was told to cut his hair if he went to [High Prairie],” said one woman, who said that was strictly against their aboriginal culture.

“I’ve told my kid he has to start hitchhiking if he misses the bus,” said another woman, adding she could not go to High Prairie to pick him up.

The audience heard that with limited enrolment not as many programs could be offered at Grouard as other schools, including scholastic and athletic programs.

That drew the ire of one man.

“What’s more important to child, sports or an education,” said Auger. “School is a place to learn, not for sports activities.
“Let’s worry more about the education of the child.”

The smaller class size at Grouard as opposed to High Prairie was also seen as a benefit as more one-on-one instruction could be provided.

If Grouard loses its program, students will be bused to High Prairie for free with costs paid by Northland.

However, Auger said that should not happen with a local school available.

Barrett also addressed the fact Northland does operate smaller schools and schools with fewer junior high students.

“But these schools are far away, not like High Prairie to Grouard.

“I think the decision we now have to make is if we keep the program open it will be a smaller program.”

She added everyone wants more programs “but with low enrolment that is not always possible.”

Any decison to close the junior high school program could be reversed in the future if enrolment rises.

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