LETTER: The Slocan Valley schools elephant

With the potential closure of Winlaw School being discussed, I really think it’s time someone talks about the elephant on the table.

Talk of closing Winlaw elementary isn't the first time Slocan Valley schools have been under fire

With the potential closure of Winlaw School being discussed, I really think it’s time someone talks about the elephant on the table. Over the years the school trustees in SD8 have made decisions in the Slocan Valley that have created anger, resentment, economic hardship and divided communities and I feel they’re about to do it again. Were they done consciously, vindictively, with malice in mind? Of course not. Everyone came to the show with the best of intentions.

The last time the Slocan Valley saw the elephant was in the 1980s when the board decided to enforce catchment areas and make Winlaw students go to W.E. Graham in a vain attempt to save the secondary grades there. Parents who wanted their kids to go south to school were very upset. Some parents would drive their kids south. One family even bought a house in the south valley to get the education they wanted their kids to have. At one point, there was a blockade/protest on Lebahdo Flats, to prevent the busses passing. It was an ugly, traumatic time and much resentment was created.

Today some of the kids who were at Winlaw school during that time are the parents of children now attending Winlaw school. Time has healed a lot of those earlier resentments, but another board decision could be setting it all in motion again.

This was not a one-off event. If you reach deeper in our area’s educational history, remember what happened in the 1950s when the provincial government and school board (with the help of the RCMP) decided Freedomite children had to go to school. Mass roundups, children in school compounds, weeping parents at chain-linked fences. Demonstrations and marches that created several generations of anger and resentment. What remains today of that saga is the now aging population that were those children, many still carrying that emotional baggage.

I was just reading the consideration of closure FAQs put out by SD8 staff. The buzz words are “under-utilization” and “deferred maintenance costs.” Kids seem to be defined as dollar-per-head units and there was precious little about quality of education or value of community. The elephant for this generation is taking shape.

I’ll mention that I’m currently the custodian at Winlaw school, but I’m not writing from that perspective. I’m writing from the point of view of my 20 years as the recreation co-ordinator in the Slocan Valley for the RDCK, having retired in 2011. One of my underlining programming goals was community building: creating activities that would bring folks from diverse backgrounds together to have a common positive experience.

So when I hear the chance of a valley school being closed, you can guess how I feel. At one community meeting, senior staff even hinted at enforcing catchment boundaries again! We have had enough divisiveness in the Slocan Valley. This is not what this community needs and I’m pretty sure it’s not what the trustees want either.

I hope the trustees, whether from Nelson, Creston, Meadow Creek, Salmo or Slocan, take this into consideration during their deliberations. The whole issue of “under-utilization” is just the latest fiction. What are the cost savings and what is the cost? Remember, the elephant is very real, so please recognize that it is still sitting there waiting.

Craig Lawrence, Winlaw

 

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