After meeting with a coalition of parents and rural-school supporters, Education Minister Serge Rousselle is suggesting he’ll stick with the government’s existing policy on school closures.  Education Minister Serge Rousselle met Tuesday with a new coalition that represents parents and supporters from 12 schools across the province. (CBC)

The group, called the Rural Schools Coalition, launched itself Tuesday with a news conference in Fredericton, where its leaders demanded the Liberal government suspend policy 409.

“We as a government believe that we have a policy there and we have to respect the law,” Rousselle told reporters later in the day, “and right now, the law is policy 409, which we have to respect.”

Parents have been told by district officials that closing a school is the easiest way for the district to save money, she said.

Paul Bennett, an education consultant and professor from Halifax, says the process now underway is “a travesty.”

The provincial government also recently introduced new criteria for districts, stipulating that they must launch a study for any school with fewer than 100 students or that is at 30 per cent or less of its student capacity.

Bennett says New Brunswick should adopt a process similar to Nova Scotia’s, which he says gives communities more time to look at factors such as community impact, possible alternate uses for parts of the building, and the added cost of busing students to consolidated schools farther away.

Rousselle points out that only district education councils can recommend closures. His only role is to approve or reject a closure. He can’t overrule a decision to keep a school open.

“We have to respect decisions taken at the local level,” he said. If a district decides to keep a school open, he added, “it doesn’t even reach my office.”

Article originally published in CBC News