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LETTER: 'My son is not responsible for this mess'

What government can claim to fund education but cannot provide the mandated publicly funded courses to fulfill student requirements?
Nelson resident Jerry Arsenault is frustrated that district staff stood him up during an emergency parent meeting at L.V. Rogers on Monday evening.

Last night Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, I missed dinner with my family to attend an emergency meeting at L.V. Rogers Secondary School in Nelson, BC. The meeting was called to address the dire situation for students in every grade level. See, they are unable to attend desired electives or more importantly to complete their educational goals for core academics because their classes are full and there is no additional staff to handle the courses.

My son, who is supposed to be in 10th grade, cannot attend any core academics in his grade. That’s correct: a 10th-grade student, age appropriate, cannot attend the 10th grade. He cannot and most likely will not be able to get into an English 10 course this fall that is required to graduate.

I would find this ridiculous under different circumstances. What government can claim to provide a publicly funded education but cannot provide the mandated publicly funded courses to fulfill the requirements of that mandate?

Do we or do we not have a publicly funded education system in this province?

So I find myself simply alarmed at this stage. Alarmed that the hard-working administration and staff at L.V. likely spent more than 13 hours at school yesterday to meet with us and share information about the incredible effort they are taking to make this "gridlock" work.

I am alarmed that PAC representatives had to miss their evening with their families to facilitate an emergency meeting of this nature.

I am alarmed that many students took time out of their homework schedule, out of their evening with family, to show up at a meeting exploring a crisis that they aren’t even responsible for.

I am alarmed that three trustees had to put their evening on hold to attend a meeting where the only answer they could provide was a noncommittal statement that they heard our concerns but were powerless to say anything else.

The thing I find most alarming, however, is that the superintendent, the treasurer, and other district staff members were curiously not in attendance. I couldn't help but think I abandoned my dinner at the last minute to attend this meeting and the directors for School District 8 didn’t miss their dinner to be with me. They likely stayed home, maybe even watched a show, spent time with their families and otherwise avoided the troubling inconvenience of having to deal this school year and the mess it is turning into.

I don’t know yet who is responsible for this fiasco. I read there is a $29 million cut from SD8 budgets. Maybe it is the Liberal government? Maybe some gross incompetence on the part of SD8? Maybe it’s L.V. Rogers staff underestimating their enrollment? Maybe it’s my fault for not realizing that this system was in trouble and simply going about my business enrolling my son in high school like a normal parent expects to do?

What I do know, however, is that my son is not responsible for this mess. Nor should he have to handle the feelings of being pushed out of his school, or that this school system is failing him. Yet he sat through the entire hour and a half meeting doing just this while listening to his opportunities in this education climate whittle away.

All while trustees remained vague about funding questions except to confirm offhandedly that the SD8 has a contingency and a surplus. (Which begs the question: Why the heck was I at a meeting about this crisis in the first place if our money is still sitting in an account somewhere?).

My son sat through the meeting as a counselor insinuated partial blame on students for not choosing their classes the year before. Even though my son chose all his courses back in June after being strongly dissuaded from doing his age appropriate 10th-grade curriculum.

He sat and listened to the mind-numbing statistics and minutiae of school funding, staffing numbers and class composition that he shouldn't even have to concern himself with at this stage in his life.

He did all of this except viewing a single individual from the directorial staff for SD8 in that room. Not one person who could answer the questions we all had. Your staff, the directors, who have to some degree the power to change this, or at the very least can offer a real answer that would be satisfactory to us. Answers like why he can’t take the courses he wants, let alone the ones he needs to graduate.

We walked out into the night frustrated that we sacrificed our dinner with his mother and brother for a lack of answers or solutions but only more questions and more frustrations.

As we finally sat down to eat dinner at 9pm my son says to me in so many words, “This is supposed to be education for my generation right? Then why does some older generation get to make these decisions for us and they don't even have to show up to explain it.”

Just like the meeting we just sat through I didn’t have an answer for him.

Jerry Arsenault

Nelson, BC