September 20, 2002

Moncton Times and Transcript

Saving river ‘too controversial’ for students
by Craig Babstock

French school children in southeastern New Brunswick will learn more about the troubled Petitcodiac River this year with the help of materials donated by the Petitcodiac Riverkeeper.

English students in the region won’t see those materials because School District 2 turned down the Riverkeeper’s offer, describing the subject matter as too controversial.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” says Daniel LeBlanc, the Riverkeeper’s executive director. “We all live in the same environment and have the same river in front of us.” School District 1 superintendent Gisele St-Amand, responsible for the French schools in southeastern New Brunswick, says they were delighted to accept the posters, videos and information about the river and how it’s deteriorated over the years.

“If we learn about the Petitcodiac River and its ecosystem, it makes you conscious of the importance of a river such as this one,” says St-Amand. “It makes students conscious of their role in protecting the environment.”

The superintendent says the material will likely be provided to the younger grades and teachers can use it in conjunction with their natural sciences classes. St-Amand says younger generations seem more interested in the environment than their elders and it’s important to nourish that.

“I think it’s very important, extremely important that young people are aware,” she says. “We borrowed the planet and haven’t done a good job protecting it.”

School District 2 superintendent Jim Stevenson agrees that environmental awareness is an important subject that needs to be taught to young people, but he says this specific subject isn’t appropriate.

“It is a controversial issue and I’m not sure it’s appropriate to place students in School District 2 in the middle of that controversy,” he says.

Stevenson said one of the problems is that the information provided doesn’t give both sides of the debate about whether or not the causeway should be opened and the river restored.

“We have not received anything from the other point of view,” he says.

Besides the subject matter, Stevenson says the district often doesn’t accept materials offered by organizations. He says requests like this are fairly common and they often turn them down because what’s discussed in the classroom has to fit into the prescribed curriculum. He says he told LeBlanc to approach the Department of Education and if it approves the material, it can be incorporated into the curriculum.

Stevenson says the decision was made by the school district and not the elected district education council.

“We made the decision but we definitely advised the council,” he says.

The council’s vice-chairwoman Mary Laltoo has been involved with the Lake Petitcodiac Preservation Association but Stevenson says that played no role in the decision.

“That wasn’t part of the consideration,” he says.

The materials in question consist of a poster detailing the history of the tidal bore, which LeBlanc says was reviewed by the Moncton Museum, another poster on abandoned dams in this part of the province, which was reviewed by Environment Canada, a brochure about the Riverkeeper group, a video titled “New Brunswick’s Petitcodiac River: A Quest for Survival,” an aerial photo comparing how the river looked in 1954, compared with 1996, and a compact disc with songs by local artists in favour of restoring the river. “It’s an education program,” says LeBlanc. “It’s the most important environmental issue in our region.”

LeBlanc says their mission is to talk about the environment and make people aware of what’s happening with the river and how the situation can be improved. The district expressed concern about giving students only one side of the restore-the-river argument but LeBlanc calls the other side anti-environmental.

“If they really have a feeling we’re only promoting one side, they can issue a warning to the schools and teachers that we’re an environmental group and protecting the environment is what we’re about,” he says. “Whether you agree with (our point of view) or not, I don’t see that censorship is helping the issue.”

St-Amand says she understands how this topic could be seen as controversial, but she says they educate students on other controversial subjects already, citing the fact some smokers would not like material they use from the Canadian Cancer Society. She says they just want to give students the information on the river so they can make up their own minds.

“I’m not asking the kids to go out and fight for this,” she says.