One parent advisory committee is demanding the Okanagan Skaha School District take all elementary schools off the chopping block if it decides to go ahead with closures.
“We’re hoping that the school district recognizes how important our elementary schools are and maybe consider what it would look like if we don’t touch any of them,” said Riley Gettens, PAC member at West Bench Elementary.
The West Bench Elementary PAC released a report looking at the negative health and social impacts that could result from closure, and illustrating an optimistic outlook of potential growth in the area.
“If every parent in the district said ‘don’t close schools,’ then are we prepared to have large classes; not have any support for students who need extra support; not have any supply budget; maybe not have library assistance; not have bussing; not have counselling services,” said superintendent Wendy Hyer.
Attached in an email sent to trustees, the PAC requested “that all possible elementary school closures be removed from options prior to the Nov. 19, Public Consultation Think Tank meeting.”
Removing certain options is a decision the board would have to make, and because their next meeting isn’t until after Nov. 19, Hyer said it’s very unlikely the board will remove options prior to the public consultation.
“And it’s probably very unlikely that the board would do that prior to making their final decision (on Jan. 20) because they’ve laid out a consultation process to guide their work and they’re going to probably see the process through,” Hyer said.
The think tank meeting on Nov. 19 is the second of eight public consultations involving possible closures and consolidation. There were initially six options presented to the public, and two more were added last week. Aside from the status quo option, the district hasn’t pitched any other avenues which will result in all elementary schools staying open, though the possibility of combining options also exists.
Gettens hopes no schools in the district will be forced to close, but if budgetary pressures prove to be too strong, she would prefer changes be made to middle and high schools.
“When we’re talking about little 5 or 6-year-old kids, it’s really great for them to be in their neighbourhood, have a sense of belonging and be a part of where they live,” she said.
Gettens has one child attending West Bench and another who just reached Grade 6 and now rides the bus to Skaha Lake Middle School.
“He loves it, he loves getting on the bus. He’s 11 so he’s ready for it, and he has coping skills – he knows what to do if he misses the bus.”
Hyer said the district will be basing its decision upon a criteria that was presented at an Oct. 26 meeting along with the initial six option, though she also said “anything and everything that people say will be considered.”
The West Bench PAC’s report mentions the near proximity of the privately-run Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School, citing it as an alternative education option.
Andrea Garriott, principal at Concordia Lutheran School, a privately-run Christian school, said since possibility of closures has become public, some parents have been inquiring about registration for next September.
“Normally we don’t have inquiries for the upcoming school year until the spring,” Garriott said.
Garriott said many parents value the small class sizes at Concordia (maximum 15), and while it is a Christian school, students don’t have to identify as Christian to attend.
The Nov. 19 public consultation takes place at Queens Park Elementary at 7:15 p.m. Full details can be found through sd67.bc.ca by following the ‘From Challenge to Opportunity’ link.