Save the schools petition signed by 200
A petition against the closure of Urafirth Primary School has been handed to council convener Malcolm Bell on the steps of the town hall.
More than 200 people have signed their names to the document ahead of crunch meetings this week, where the Urafirth and North Roe primaries are earmarked for closure.
Members of the education and families committee are due to debate whether to shut the Northmavine schools tomorrow.
If the axe falls pupils will transfer to Ollaberry Primary School from August next year. A nursery class will be opened there to cater for pre-school children moving from the Urafirth nursery.
Tomorrow’s decision by councillors is expected to be ratified at Wednesday’s full council meeting.
The SIC expects to make savings of £156,311 if it pushes ahead with the move.
But many in the community argue closing will do no good for an area that has shown signs of growth in recent years.
Over the weekend nationalist MSP Mike MacKenzie pledged he would urge the Scottish government to call in any decision to close the schools following a meeting with concerned parents.
It followed a special bus run on Friday aimed at demonstrating journey times to councillors. In the event, only three elected members turned up: North
Mainland members Andrea Manson and Alastair Cooper, as well as West Mainland councillor Theo Smith.
Ms Manson, who represents the West Mainland on education and families, says the schools must be saved.
She said Urafirth had a busy school with a “rapidly rising” school roll. She cited new houses being built in the area, and crofts passing on to new generations.
She also argued the area had seen “huge regeneration” thanks to a vibrant private sector.
“Folk with a real commitment to the area who haven’t even started their families yet have also signed the petition, and they are also supportive of the current school board’s efforts.”
She argued both Urafirth and North Roe stood out in contrast to other primary schools, such as Bressay and Olnafirth, which effectively closed themselves because of a drop in pupil numbers.
“These are not ailing schools that deserve to be closed. They are – both schools – completely supported by the local community.
“The primary schools that we have closed in this term of the council – not counting Skerries – have both effectively closed themselves because the parents have voted with their feet.”
She added the Northmavine schools had “superb” head teachers and were well supported in the area.
“It does my heart good to see what a vibrant community folk stay in.”
One of the key arguments against closure during this week’s meetings is expected to be transport.
Ms Manson said nothing had changed since Northmavine schools were saved from closure in 2011. At that time the council stepped back from closure, largely because of council policy which states primary youngsters can not spend more than 40 minutes on a bus.
“The houses in North Roe … are still in exactly the same places they were before. It’s only three years ago that they tried to close the North Roe school last.
“All the councillors were invited to come on a run we did on Friday, and on that run … it took more than 40 minutes without stopping to pick anybody up.”
She argued children had been “conceived and born” – including twins – since the council’s figures were compiled.
“It’s 11 months since the figures were used in the consultation. Would it not have been sensible to have actually got totally up to date figures as of the 1st September?
“I think it’s eight or nine babies who have been born since this consultation started. And there are lots more coming. But they are not allowed to count them either.”
Mr Bell stressed the concerns of parents would be considered in the chamber, adding councillors “agonise” over decisions such as these.
“I had a very good and reasonable discussion with the representatives that I met this morning when they handed over the petition. I reassured them that members agonise over decisions like these. We’ll consider all the evidence and reach a fair decision.
“I hopefully reassured them that no decision had, as yet, been made and we will take everything, including their views, into account.”