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Gander Academy parent concerned

Dear editor, A couple of months ago there was a sudden decision by the administration of Gander Academy to deny access to the school to parents who wish to drop off and pick up their children.

As is well known by now, this outraged many parents who didn’t understand the policy and felt it was a sudden and arbitrary decision made without any consultation or consideration for parents or school volunteers.

Many parents also felt the new policy didn’t properly address the safety of their children as they were left to exit the building unsupervised and hopefully make their way to waiting parents. Petitions were started, and emails and phone calls went to the school administration, school board, and anyone who might influence this decision. Media started covering the story, both locally and provincially.

At this point, the administration decided they would form a working group that would include several concerned parents, so they could attempt to address the parents concerns and clarify their position. I was asked to be one of the concerned parents to attend this meeting. I did some research and discovered that other elementary schools in the St. John’s area did indeed allow parents into the school to drop off or pick up their children, but the parents went to designated areas within the school and waited for the children to be escorted to them by a teacher. I went to this meeting with the position that something similar to this could be arranged for Gander Academy.

One of the first things that were discussed at the meeting was the reason for the new policy.  Many different reasons had been heard by parents and led to a lot of confusion. From what the administration presented at the meeting it was a combination of many reasons that led to the decision.

These are some things they pointed out:

• The halls of the school were congested during pick up and drop offs, sometimes to the point that it was not only a nuisance but also possibly a fire safety issue.

• Some parents were not co-operative in staying in designated areas and some even became aggressive toward school staff on occasion.

• The school feels it has an obligation to know who is in the building at all times and have total control of who is admitted, so that there is zero chance of anyone inappropriate or wishing to do harm having any access to the children in the school. They have implemented a pass system so all staff and visitors would be recognized by the students as someone who is permitted in the building. Anyone without this pass would be recognized as someone not supposed to be there.

What it comes down to is that the school is very old and poorly designed for the population within it. There is not an appropriate area that can be designated for parents to gather and pick up their children such as a cafeteria that might be found in other schools.

Under these circumstances, I found myself at this meeting unable to argue against something ultimately designed to protect the children. However there are many other concerns, including how the children now leave the school unsupervised and unable to get back in and that sometimes parents may need to accompany a child into the school for various reasons.

A set of entrance and exit procedures was discussed that included students being supervised as they exited outside the building, and a strategy to make this as efficient as possible. Everything from possible reorganizing of parking lots to building windbreaks at entrances was talked about. It was recognized that parents and volunteers would have to be encouraged to discuss with the administration any concerns about access to the building, and passes would be available on an as-needed basis for those who requested. It seems it’s not a matter of keeping people out of the school but of knowing who has access.

At the time of writing this it is my understanding that a final draft of these procedures is ready. I do not know when or how the school intends to implement them.

I have expressed my concern to the administration that to this point some sort of exit supervision has not already been put in place.  

It is also my opinion that it is time to stop putting money into expanding this school and give Gander a newer school (or two) that would bring us up to the standards of other areas of the province.

In my opinion, it is obscene that we have over 900 elementary school students that we have to bus home for lunch every day because there is no cafeteria or working parents have to make other lunch arrangements.

Jim Lidstone,

Concerned parent

Gander Academy

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