MEDICINE HAT, AB – The doors to École St. Thomas D’Aquin will officially be closed at the end of this school year following a decision by the Medicine Hat Catholic School Board.
The Catholic Board voting unanimously 5-0 on Tuesday night to close the French immersion school in the spring and relocate the school’s 99 students to St. John Paul II School, which will be opening ahead of the 2018-19 school year.
According to the Catholic Board, the closure is due to a lack of growth in the single-track French immersion program and close to $1.5 million in repairs needed at St. Thomas.
Board Chair Dick Mastel said it was a very difficult decision to make, but one that needed to happen.
“Closing a school is something that no trustee wants to do,” said Mastel. “But, I think we’re in a position where we had to do that.”
Following the ruling, most of the parents in attendance broke out in applause in support of the move.
Danielle Poissant’s daughter attends St. Thomas in the Grade 5 program, and said she was initially not in favour of the closure.
“With a lot of talking to the trustees, the principal, I spoke with someone from Alberta Education as well, I’ve actually completely switched and now I think it’s a really good move for them.”
According to Mastel, Poissant’s case was common with a lot of the parents who attended a January 8 open house and wrote letters to the Catholic Board.
“I know from speaking to parents that I’ve spoken to personally that weren’t in favour of the decision or the proposal at the start, are now in favour,” he said. “And, I think there was an evolution... in thinking and I think that is what happened.”
As part of the move, St. John Paul II will be renamed École St. John Paul II School to reflect the school’s new dual-track English and French programs.
It’s estimated that between 80 and 100 English speaking students will attend École St. John Paul II along with the 99 French immersion students.
Poissant said it’s going to be a difficult transition for her 10-year-old daughter after attending only St. Thomas, but it’s one she’s hoping will be for the best.
“Seven years at one school, you become really attached,” said Poissant. “So, it’s going to be a hard move for us, it’s going to be a lot of work which they mentioned. I think that she’ll be fine because kids adapt very well.”
A request for three modular classrooms has also been submitted for the new school on the south end of Medicine Hat, with a ruling from the province expected in late February or early March.
École St. John Paul II was also designated as a K-6 school for both languages, while an open house will be held over the next two weeks to discuss attendance areas and boundaries for busing students.
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