Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley addressed a packed house at Cedar Community Hall Monday

Row between Cedar and Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District heats up

Cedar area parents, Snuneymuxw First Nation and Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley band together to challenge SD68 plan.

Staff and administrators at Ladysmith Secondary School will know within a matter of weeks how many students from Cedar Community Secondary School (CCSS) they’ll be taking in come the 2014–15 school year.

If all goes according to plan — School District 68’s Enhanced Facilities for Learning Plan (EFLP) — CCSS will close June 30, 2014, and its student body will be apportioned between John Barsby Secondary School and LSS. CCSS will then undergo extensive renovations before re-opening as a new community elementary school in September 2015.

Donna Reimer, director of communications for SD68, said the district will ask CCSS students and their parents to indicate their preference for next year “in the next couple of weeks.”

John Barsby is the designated school, Reimer added, but students will have the option of attending LSS.

Students have traditionally waited until spring to choose their courses for the following school year, but with mass student migrations soon underway, SD68 will be asking CCSS students to choose their courses “later this semester,” Reimer said, “to allow the two schools time to do the planning necessary for a smooth transition for [CCSS] students.”

That transition may not take place as smoothly as SD68’s administrators would ideally like, though.

Official challenges to the EFLP have been brought forward by both the Save Cedar Schools Coalition (SCSC) and the Snunneymuxw First Nation.

The SCSC spent the summer deconstructing SD68’s rationale for closing CCSS while at the same time calling on the district to halt the planned closure.

As part of their strategy, SCSC collected roughly 4,000 signatures in an effort to petition the Ministry of Education to intervene on its behalf.

Following a public meeting held in Cedar Sept. 23, SCSC spokesperson Stephanie Higginson explained that the petition calls on the Education Minister to appoint a special adviser who would relieve SD68 Board of Education trustees of their responsibilities while reviewing the EFLP.

Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley delivered the petition to Ministry of Education staff Friday, Sept. 27, he said, and he plans to meet with Education Minister Peter Fassbender in the near future to discuss school closures on behalf of the SCSC.

“I do not agree with the conclusions of the [EFLP],” Routley said, adding that evidence brought forth by the SCSC contradicts SD68’s claims regarding below-average performance in district schools and claims that a secondary school isn’t needed in Cedar.

Cedar’s demographics indicate that CCSS is needed now, Routley explained, and the school’s educational services will remain a necessity for the foreseeable future.

As a former school trustee himself, Routley said he empathizes with SD68’s trustees in their fight to balance their books as the province tightens its purse strings.

“Most of this wouldn’t be happening if they had the money to support their schools,” Routley said. “B.C. has descended to 10th of 10 provinces when it comes to per-student funding, and if you include the three territories, we’re 12th out of 13.”

However, as trustees have sought to improve services while grappling with inadequate funding, they’ve opted to defend SD68 policy to the public, thus placing themselves “in direct conflict with their constituents,” Routley said.

“The trustees’ job, in my opinion, is to ensure that the community’s values are represented in the operations and planning of the school district and not simply to endorse the expediencies of the administration and of the provincial government,” Routley explained. “Otherwise, they would be redundant. Their primary democratic role is to ensure that the voices of the community are adequately heard and represented in all of these decisions.”

Alec McPherson, electoral area director with the Regional District of Nanaimo, and Doug White, Chief of the Snuneymuxw First Nation (SFN), share his concerns regarding the impacts of the EFLP, Routley said.

Collectively, Routley, White and McPherson are working alongside the SCSC in an effort to deliver a “united push” in defence of area schools, Routley said.

Citing inadequate consultation, White announced Wednesday that SFN was launching a lawsuit challenging the EFLP, and he would be “quite happy to pursue the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.”

Responding to SFN’s announcement, Reimer replied: “The district believes its consultation process was fair and appropriate. We will wait to see the exact nature of the legal challenge before making any further comments.”

 

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