Kootenay Lake parents pleaded with the school board last week to reconsider their draft facilities plan, which puts three rural schools at risk of closure: W.E. Graham, Winlaw and Jewett.
“Demolishing a school is not adding learning value,” Slocan mayor Jessica Lunn told the board last week, after detailing the “devastating impact” the closure would have on her community. Right now the board is still deliberating over whether her community’s school or Winlaw would ultimately close.
Parents called the consultation process “a farce” and claimed it lacked a meaningful way for them to engage with it. They have already started collecting petitions to ask for an extension of the deadline.
“It’s not our job to come up with a business plan,” said one parent. “And this plan is unacceptable.”
And though they expressed frustration with the board, many in the room agreed with one parent who blamed the government.
“You better put the squeeze on the education minister, Mike Bernier, to properly fund rural education,” he said.
‘Like waiting for an execution’
Some parents came up with creative ways to describe how they feel about the upcoming school closures, and put forward alternative solutions to the district’s declining enrolment and budget constraint issues.
“I feel like both of my arms have been cut off here,” said one parent, while another said the process made him feel like he was “waiting for an execution.”
It wasn’t only parents speaking up, either.
A teacher from Winlaw described her past six years “building trust and building community,” and told the board “I don’t know if I could do that again,” calling the move “challenging and near-impossible.”
Parent Greg Underwood called the potential two-hour round-trip bus rides on Highway 31 necessitated by the closure of Jewett “inappropriate” for younger children, noting that stretch is prone to avalanches.
Community members have floated the idea of purchasing the Jewett building, and have also expressed concern that the community hall younger students would move into is already near capacity with other programs.
Trafalgar PAC vows to invest in current students
The school most likely to close if the plan goes ahead is Trafalgar Middle School, and according to the school’s parent advisory council that’s something they’ve accepted.
“But if it is going to happen, it probably won’t be for another two years,” said parent Andrew Jones. “Whatever decision is made, we need to make sure the students feel we’re invested in them.
“I’m sad that it’s come to this, that the government has invested so little in education, particularly in our region. You can tour all the Nelson area schools and see there hasn’t been much money put into them.”
Jones said they’re hoping “strong leadership from the board office” will “clearly communicate that big changes are needed.”
Protest organized for Bernier visit
While the education minister toured Trafalgar last week, approximately 80 community members gathered with placards and banners with messages such as “Winlaw School is Great” and “Fund Rural Education!”
An hour later, at the board meeting, one student’s grandparent made an emotional plea to the board.
“We’re reasonable people and you’re reasonable people. Let’s talk,” he said.
The board voted unanimously last week to send the education minister a letter detailing their facilities plan, reminding him of what they discussed during his visit and urging him to back their reconfiguration goals.
Trustees and administration will continue to receive feedback until Saturday at firstname.lastname@example.org.