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Queensdale school ribbon flap blamed on ‘misunderstanding’

Use of class time, not artwork at issue, superintendent says

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Queensdale Elementary School is once again adorned with red ribbons, student handprints and other symbols of its fight to stay open after an apparent order to take them down was reversed.

School superintendent Michael Prendergast attributed the initial directive to remove all signs of protest from the school’s yard and hallways to a misunderstanding with the school’s principal.

Queensdale is one of four central Mountain elementary schools earmarked for closure under a staff proposal being considered by an accommodation review committee that is scheduled to make its own recommendation by the end of January.

Several parents contacted the Mountain News after Prendergast allegedly told the school’s principal the symbols, including a mural, would have to come down during a visit on the morning of a Nov. 26 ARC meeting there.

While the school complied, by late afternoon parents were told the superintendent’s words had been misinterpreted and the symbols could go back up.

Prendergast, who chairs the ARC as a non-voting member, said the “misunderstanding” occurred when he and the principal were investigating a complaint that students had used class time to prepare decorative handprints that were affixed to a school fence.

He said his only issue was the use of class time, not the artwork, which he described as “really quite attractive.”

“It’s my understanding that the activity was related to the class wanting to show how much they cared about their school, so there was no issue with the work being displayed,” Prendergast said.

“Our goal is to hope that the schools will really focus on teaching and learning. That’s what we’re about. The concern from the community was that the kids were being drawn into the political process of the ARC, which wasn’t the case at all.”

Shawna McNicol, chair of Queensdale’s school council, said although some parents are skeptical about the superintendent’s explanation, they don’t want to make a big deal over the incident because the issue’s been resolved.

She said her group is instead focused on developing its own alternative to the staff proposal to close Queensdale and Eastmount Park, and transfer most of their students to George L. Armstrong.

McNicol said she hoped her group would be able to present its option at the Dec. 3 ARC meeting, which took place after deadline. She declined to divulge details on the plan until it’s made public.

“A couple of communities are going to be a little bit upset, but in the long run it’s going to benefit everybody,” McNicol said. “Ninety-nine per cent of the kids are going to be able to walk to the school. We’re going to have hardly any busing.”

Prendergast said the ARC had received about 15 alternative options from the community thus far and reduced those to eight.

He said the committee was expected to decide at Tuesday’s meeting which of those alternative options to present at a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Dec. 10 at Hill Park Secondary School.

“This is fairly typical. You start with a high number and work your way down,” Prendergast said, noting the committee will still hold a final public meeting on Jan. 21 before submitting its recommendation to trustees.

“You don’t want to be coming at (trustees) with too (options) many because then it becomes unclear what the wishes of the committee really are,” he said. “Clarity is important.”

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