While addressing the SD8 school board on Tuesday evening, Winlaw Elementary Grade 5 student Daniel Sullivan compared the potential closure of his school to destroying a spiderweb.
“The spiderweb has many threads that support it, and by closing the school you break one of those threads and affect all the other ones,” Sullivan said, to applause from the nearly 400 people packed into the W.E Graham gymnasium in Slocan on Tuesday evening.
“I really love Winlaw Elementary and I’ve enjoyed my experiences there. Please don’t close it.”
Sullivan was joined by former board trustee Penny Tees, Area H director Walter Popoff, Slocan Mayor Jessica Lunn and an incensed crowd of parents that included Desiree Chrystals, Krispen Elder, Raina Gardner and many others. They all expressed their enthusiasm for the school and pleaded for the board to remove it from their list for consideration of closure.
Currently the SD8 school board has six schools potentially on the chopping block, as part of their draft facilities plan: Trafalgar, Winlaw, Jewett, Creston Education Centre, Yahk and Salmo Elementary. But Winlaw’s closure has been the most controversial by far, with many asserting that Winlaw parents will leave the public education system in favour of home schooling or the private system.
“This is classism,” said Chrystals during the feedback period, asserting that she believes the real problem is the competition between the public and private school system. “This is Canada. It’s insane to me this conversation is even happening.”
Daniel Sullivan (above) addressed the school board on Tuesday
Tees was particularly angry with the board and scolded them.
“A decision to close Winlaw is not the right decision,” said Tees, the former president of the BC School Trustees Association, asserting that homeschooling is more popular in the Slocan Valley. She said some students thrive in that milieu, while others won’t.
“You know that and I know that. Your public school system will be diminished from not having all these kids in our schools.”
Tees told the board their decision would be “unprecedented,” a message echoed repeatedly throughout the evening. Because the school’s population is growing and their building utilization is high, advocates feel it doesn’t make sense to funnel kids to W.E. Graham in Slocan, which will still be under-utilized and in danger of closure in the future.
“We have people here from other school communities. The whole SD8 school district wants Winlaw open. Why is it on the chopping block?” one parent asked.
According to many, students will head south to Brent Kennedy rather than north to W.E. Graham if Winlaw closes. That’s if they stay in the public system at all. Many parents praised Winlaw school and its teachers, pointing out that multiple generations of families are intertwined in the institution.
“Winlaw school is a part of our community,” one parent said. “How could you take it away from us?”
The board didn’t have a microphone, and parents repeatedly complained they couldn’t hear board chair Lenora Trenaman. Screaming from the skatepark outside was evidence of the large student presence.
“It’s hard to believe the school board can’t come up with a microphone,” complained local resident Rita Moir. “This is ridiculous.”
Dr. Marcia Braundy had another idea for how to keep Winlaw open: “Tell [the provincial government] to use the $100 million Prosperity fund. That would go a long way to funding schools in British Columbia.”
Local advocate Moe Lyons said the thinking behind the facilities planning process is wrong-headed.
“The values driving this are just plain wrong. We need to take a stand,” she screamed, while others called out “where’s the money?”
Parents have compared the potential closure to a number of dramatic scenarios, including execution, but parent Krispen Elder went medical with his metaphor.
“I encourage you to think like a surgeon,” he said. “Do not cut off this limb, because you won’t be able to go back.”
Trustees all thanked the parents and representatives for engaging in their process, and promised further deliberation will come at their future meetings — including one at Winlaw on June 13, as well as the final two meetings before final voting on the plan takes place on July 5 and 12.
Courtney Hulbert, a W.E. Graham parent, thanked everyone for visiting Slocan and sharing their opinions. She reminded them that “we’re all friends and neighbours” and encouraged everyone to make sure to keep things civil.
“We all need to work together as a community on this,” she said. Another parent said vitriol should be directed at the government, rather than the board, because he believes they are underfunding education.
“We have to weather this storm Christy Clark is putting us through.”
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Krispen Elder and Marcia Braundy’s names.)
Approximately 30 signs were planted along the highway between Winlaw and Slocan (below), expressing support for Winlaw Elementary and decrying its potential closure.