News

Alberni school closure decision stalled

Procedural issues have stalled a School District 70 decision to close two Alberni Valley elementary schools in September.

Trustees passed a motion on March 11 that would see Gill and Eighth Avenue elementary schools closed and VAST moved to a re-purposed Eighth Avenue. All other schools would retain their current configuration.

School District 70 administrators reviewed the decision and found that procedural questions have been raised that need to be addressed, superintendent Cam Pinkerton noted in a press release.

A special board meeting has been called for on March 25 to deal with the matter.

Calls to Pinkerton weren't immediately returned.The procedures have to do with School District 70 policy and the BC School Act, School District 70 chair Larry Ransom said. “We're getting a legal opinion about this so I can't comment much more.”

School District 70's policy on school closures notes that: preceding closure, school enrollments and physical conditions are monitored; the board will discuss closures with the public at community meetings; consultation with those directly impacted by the intended closure will precede any final decision; and a final decision will be made no later than the second meeting of trustees in May.

School closures must also be carried out in accordance with the School Opening and Closure Order as outlined in the BC School Act.

School boards are required to develop and implement a policy that includes a school closure public consultation process which is available to the public, the act notes. The process must include adequate time for public input; consideration of enrollment growth; and consideration of possible alternative community use for all or part of the school.

A school can only be closed by a school district bylaw, and the only information the Ministry of Education requires is the school's name, address, facility number and closure date.

At the March 11 meeting trustees took heat from audience and senior school district staff because Bennie's scenario wasn't given public consultation.

Bennie's option was contained at school closure public meetings in February, trustee Gaelle Frey said in response to a question from trustee Gurmail Aujla.

Frey never elaborated. But a closer look at the closure scenarios developed by SD 70 and handed out at public meetings in February reveals that a version of Bennie's option is found within the three scenarios.

Option 3A would have been done over three phases. In the third phase, Gill and Eighth Avenue elementary schools would be closed; Wood remains open but is an annex of ADSS. Bennie's option is the same but sees Wood remain an elementary school instead.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

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