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Davis Road advocates bemoan school board decision

École Davis Road parents struggling to come to terms with inevitable closure of their school
School District 68 board chair Dot Neary speaks during a special board meeting Feb. 6 in Ladysmith.

With School District 68 choosing to close École Davis Road Elementary this June, the pain and reality is just settling in for EDR parents and advocates.

Students currently enrolled at the school will now need to choose between Ladysmith Primary, Ladysmith Intermediate, or North Oyster Elementary, with French Immersion only being offered at the latter beginning September 2014.

"There could not have been a worse outcome for Ladysmith schools at [the] school board meeting (Feb. 6)," said Carrie Segreto from Davis Road's Parent Advisory Council in an email. "To say we’re upset is an understatement. The appalling actions of the School District 68 trustees and staff in the past year can only be described as bullying. They have acted in an unacceptable, disrespectful, and just simply scandalous manner in enforcing their Enhanced Facilities Plan."

Segreto will be one driving to North Oyster everyday come September in order to keep her kids in the French Immersion program — but she's not happy about it.

"I would like to accept this and move forward [as] school closures happen all the time, right? After our school’s community has fought for almost a year to keep École Davis Road open, I would like to admit defeat, find the positives in the school board’s plan, and assure my children that moving them to North Oyster for French Immersion is the best thing to do. But I cannot accept defeat when the game was full of misrepresentation, played unfairly and with so much disrespect to the players. And I cannot accept a plan that is bad not only for our children but for the residents and Town of Ladysmith as well," wrote Segreto.

"Davis Road’s catchment area is the only one in all Ladysmith zone schools in which current enrolment projections show substantial growth in the population. [It] has been operating at approximately 200 per cent its capacity for the past several years. Many families have moved to the south side of Ladysmith specifically for this popular, successful school with its amazing group of staff and teachers and its strong, supportive parent community. Even with the risk of the school being closed, enrolment for French Immersion Kindergarten at Davis Road for the 2014/15 school year was full with a waiting list of 11 children."

Segreto now feels the "hard work" put in by prior Davis Road parents in years-gone-by, in order to establish French Immersion at the school, has all gone down the drain.

"In moving the program out of a community, making it difficult to access, the school district is contributing to the 'elitist' stigma associated with French Immersion. Over the past months, at public meetings and through numerous letters and social media, Davis Road parents have indicated they would not opt to have their children attend French Immersion at North Oyster Elementary, mainly due to its remote location. Families chose to live in Ladysmith for its small-town feel, walk-ability and close-knit community.

"For several years, Davis Road was among the top three priorities in the district’s capital plan to be renovated or replaced. In the 2012/2013 school year, Davis Road became the number one priority project in the plan. Then suddenly, that all changed. The school district presented its 'Enhanced Facilities Plan for Learning' in April 2013 and announced plans to close and consolidate several schools, all in the south end of the district. From Number One to shut-down… obviously the school district did not like the idea that they might need to finally spend some money in Ladysmith schools."

Segreto also believes closing Davis Road merely because it has the worst facilities in the district is the wrong thing to do.

"All the schools in Ladysmith have poor facility ratings because for decades the school district has not invested any capital funds into an area with a relatively small section of the voting population of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District.

"Many Ladysmith families are extremely upset and are considering moving their children out of the district, going instead to schools in School District 79 or private schools such as St. Joseph’s, where already at least 60 per cent of students are Ladysmith residents. Other families are considering leaving the French Immersion program and putting their children into the Ladysmith Primary/Intermediate schools which are now the catchment area schools for all Ladysmith children. Problem is, though, that the two schools only have a combined capacity of 523 for the town’s almost 800 elementary-aged children."

PAC co-chair Aaron Stone is actively seeking assurances and arrangements from SD68 over busing for Davis Road students heading to North Oyster.

"We're still back and forth with the school district, but the issue of busing can't be assured without the trustees voting on it," said Stone. "The message from SD68 is about enhancing education, so they need to show us that commitment so we can invest in that. North Oyster's catchment area doesn't support the school so they need us to buy in. We've said loud and clear that we need busing or else the school district will be held accountable. If they're not willing to commit to North Oyster, then why keep it open? They need us as much as we need them."

The PAC co-chair believes criticism of the school board should be aimed at district staff rather than the school trustees in the limelight, who passed a motion similar to Option A put together by the Ladysmith Working Group.

"I was one voice on the Working Group but the reality is there was a lot of support behind Option A. Criticism should be aimed at administrative and senior staff at the district as the trustees chose an option from the community against the will of staff."

Stone will also send his children to North Oyster to remain in French and is trying to look on the bright side.

"It's a six minute drive to North Oyster so it's do-able. It's a very nice facility. I don't agree with the district's decision but I understand the logic of it. It was an enhanced 'facilities' for learning plan and you can see that. I'm trying to have a positive attitude towards all of this as I am heartbroken. Right now, it's a hard pill to swallow but it's about making it into something special," he said.

Segreto on the other hand sees no prosperous future for Ladysmith schools under SD68's dictatorship.

"Before more Ladysmith students join the 116 who have already left School District 68 for alternatives in School District 79 or private schools, perhaps the Town of Ladysmith needs to think about operating its own school district or if that is unrealistic, then perhaps joining School District 79. Our public education system in British Columbia is deteriorating, a fact that is clearly evident in Ladysmith. Our elected officials, at all levels, need to start putting education before politics."

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