The Kootenay Lake school board debates reconfiguration plans at a nearly four-hour meeting Tuesday night that featured plenty of opposition from parents. Photo: Tyler Harper

School District 8 votes to move Grade 9 from LVR to Trafalgar

The board also delayed a decision on reconfiguring grades at Slocan schools

A contentious plan to compensate for overcrowding at L.V. Rogers by moving Grade 9 students to Trafalgar Middle School beginning in September 2021 was approved by School District 8’s board of trustees last week.

The reconfiguration includes expansion to Grade 6 at Hume School, Rosemont Elementary and South Nelson, which will give families the option of holding children back for a year before entering the new Grade 6 to 9 model at Trafalgar.

Enrolment projections provided by the district show L.V. Rogers currently has 741 students, or 16 more than its operating capacity of 725. If LVR stayed a Grade 9 to 12 school, that number would grow to 881 students by 2027.

Trafalgar, which has Grades 6 to 8, is 160 students under its capacity limit of 575 and has space for an extra grade.

District board chair Lenora Trenaman said it was imperative a decision was made before LVR’s student population became unsustainable.

“We can see the train is on the track and we’re not going to have room,” she said.

A decision was also scheduled to be made on reconfiguration plans for Slocan Valley schools including Winlaw Elementary, Brent Kennedy Elementary and Mount Sentinel Secondary, but that was delayed to the board’s next meeting on Jan. 28 to allow for further consultation.

Although public meetings about the district’s 10-year facilities plan have been underway throughout the year, it was only in November when the possibility of moving Grade 9 to Trafalgar was brought to parents.

The initial plan was to relocate students for the 2020-21 year. That enraged parents, who voiced their opposition at a public meeting Dec. 5 and again at Tuesday’s board meeting that ran for nearly four hours.

The rushed timeline was the main complaint, but several others were raised including: the age disparity between Grade 6 and 9 under one roof; the need for renovations at the 91-year-old Trafalgar building; confusion over why capacity information is only now being released; emotional wellbeing of students; students who leave private schools such as St. Joseph’s or Waldorf and must spend one year at Trafalgar before moving into LVR; and the general state of repairs needed at Trafalgar.

It was just three years ago that the board voted to shut down Trafalgar and replace it with a new South Nelson Elementary.

That led to confusion from parents over why the board was now refocusing on a school it only recently planned to demolish.

Trenaman said the decision was taken out of the board’s hands when the Ministry of Education failed to fund a new school. The B.C. Liberal government of the time, she said, had a higher threshold for what it considered a full school than the current John Horgan government.

She added extreme population growth in the Lower Mainland school districts means that’s where all the ministry funds are currently being allocated.

“It is sucking the capital funding right out of options for the rural, and that’s the reality. … The rural communities have to work really hard to build their case to attain capital funding for new builds, particularly.”

Some parents suggested expansion to LVR in the form of portables, but superintendent Christine Perkins told the meeting there was no interest from the ministry in funding those types of classrooms, nor was there space on the school grounds for additional buildings.

The board considered two other options for Trafalgar. One was an identical plan, but rushed to begin next September. Another proposed kindergarten to Grade 9 configurations for every Nelson elementary school similar to what Wildflower School currently has. Neither option was given much thought.

The long-range facilities plan for 2019 to 2030, meanwhile, was unanimously approved for adoption. Secretary-treasurer Michael McLellan stressed the plan is only a guiding document and not a strict road plan, but that the ministry needed it when considering the district’s funding requests.

That plan can be read online here.

The change is the latest in a series of reconfigurations for Trafalgar that stretch back to its opening in 1928.

It was supposed to be an elementary school to address overcrowding at Hume and Central schools, but opened instead as a junior high school with Grades 8 to 10. That changed to Grade 7 to 9 in the late 1980s, and again to Grade 6 to 8 in 2008 when Grade 9 students were moved to LVR.

Trenaman acknowledged the public criticisms of the board’s latest plan, but asked for patience while the district and school staff turn to addressing the logistics of moving Grade 9 to Trafalgar.

“I would say change is always difficult. It’s always hard. It’s very difficult for the board as well,” she said.

“What I can tell you is I have complete and full confidence of the good work and the heart of the educators and the staff … Children are very resilient and, between the resiliency of our students and the capacity of our stellar staff, I know they will find it’s not going to be nearly as daunting as what they thought it might be.”

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