School District 68 votes to close École Davis Road Elementary this June

School District votes to close Davis Road in June and send French Immersion program to North Oyster

The doors of Ecole Davis Road Elementary will be slammed shut this June as School District 68 voted to close the school this past Thursday.

Following a special meeting held at Ladysmith Secondary, the school board will now send Davis Road’s famous French Immersion program to North Oyster Elementary, as of September. North Oyster will now become a dual track school and remain open.

French Immersion students currently enrolled at Davis Road will either have the choice of following the program to North Oyster, or changing to English track at either Ladysmith Primary or Ladysmith Intermediate.

Kindergarten to Grade 3 students in English track at Davis Road will now head to either North Oyster or Ladysmith Primary with Grade 4 to 6 English students at Davis Road having the choice of Ladysmith Intermediate or North Oyster.

“The time for decisive action has come,” said board chair Dot Neary at the meeting, after a similar meeting on school reconfiguration in December saw key decisions stalled. “Taking no action is not an option.”

Notably, students at Ladysmith Primary and Ladysmith Intermediate as well as Davis Road, will now be given a chance to attend North Oyster.

The move comes after the school board also decided to send Grade 7 English track students to Ladysmith Secondary thus leaving North Oyster as the only K-7 school in the Ladysmith area. Grade 7s-to-be from Davis Road can choose either.

“The district will do a feasibility study about the possibility of Grade 8 French Immersion at LSS,” said Donna Reimer, SD68’s director of communications, in an email to the Chronicle.

With Davis Road closing, its catchment area will be merged with Ladysmith Primary and Ladysmith Intermediate so students staying in town will have transport provided under Board Procedure 4400.

SD68 “will explore transportation options, for a specific transitional period, including a user pay system,” for Davis Road students moving to North Oyster.

“In the last five or six years I’ve been on the board, we’ve been working to get a new school in Ladysmith,” said trustee Donna Allen at the meeting. “Now this recommendation enables us to fill all the seats to capacity and allows opportunity, through the B.C. liberal government’s policies, for an attempt at a new school. Some argue that there’s no money available to fund a new school, but I think that’s a defeatist attitude.”

Ironically, there was a moment of hope for distraught Davis Road parents at the meeting as the original recommendation, entitled the Senior Staff Option, put forward to the board actually failed.

That option would have closed Davis Road in June 2014 but would also have closed North Oyster in June 2015, taking French Immersion to Ladysmith Intermediate.

But only Neary, Allen and trustee Jamie Brennan voted for that option with trustees Bill Bard, Nancy Curley, Kim Howland, Bill Robinson, TerryLynn Saunders and Sharon Welch voting against.

The motion that passed came about after Howland made an amendment to the senior staff option, turning it into one very similar to Option A provided by the Ladysmith Working Group.

As a result, French Immersion will now be taken out of the Town of Ladysmith completely.

“Sustainability in Ladysmith is complex at best,” said Howland. “I know it seems like we’ve focused on the south end of town but there’s a lot of other schools that have closed in the district as well. It’s not an easy decision and Ladysmith council have been caught between a rock and a hard place doing what’s best for the community.”

Howland believes keeping North Oyster open is key as it provides parents with choice.

“We have limited funding, so to keep a strong public education system, we need to create choice. I see French Immersion as a choice program and if the parents would like their child to take part in it, they will. By moving it to North Oyster, it allows a choice for Cedar too and there’s reasons to believe a dual track system will work in a rural community.”

Saunders was on the same page as Howland.

“I believe strongly that parents choose French Immersion for a reason,” said Saunders. “I believe if the parents are serious about it, they’ll find a way to get their kids to North Oyster. Davis Road has great parents who support their kids, they have wonderful teachers and the French Immersion program there is very successful. That’s not going to go away and I believe they will make French Immersion successful no matter where they go.

“Davis Road is a bad facility and I’ve heard from parents in Cedar who’d like to see French Immersion in North Oyster so they don’t have to go as far. This is basically Option A provided by the working group. It shows enrolment at three (elementary) schools (in the Ladysmith area) and they would be close to capacity or over capacity. That’s the goal of school boards.”

Allen was also satisfied with the amendment.

“There’s very good reasons why the French Immersion program would succeed at North Oyster,” she said. “I hope the people in Cedar take advantage of what is a lovely little school.”

Neary wanted the original motion to pass but was content nonetheless.

“North Oyster is a geographically remote school. It has a history of poor enrolment for a reason or a reason not known to us. But with my first choice off the table, I’m willing to be pragmatic. Nothing would please me more than to see the French Immersion program work there, but if it doesn’t work out as we’re hoping, there will be repercussions down the road,” said Neary.

The final and crucial motion that passed was only voted against by Brennan who said the inevitable closure of Davis Road would result in overcrowding at the other two Ladysmith elementary schools.

“It’s unacceptable to call this improving the educational environment,” said Brennan.

The evening came to a close with upset Davis Road advocates jeering the board as it unanimously passed the closure bylaw for the school.