A couple of weeks have passed since School District #27 (SD27) board trustees unanimously approved a bylaw to close Bridge Lake Elementary School (BLES).
Parents of students at BLES and members of the area communities were angry and frustrated as they walked out of the SD27 office building on April 26 and made the two-hour drive back to Bridge Lake.
Facing the reality of the school closure at the end of the school year, they have sent three complaints to the Office of the Ombudsperson, hoping Ombudsperson Jay Chalke will agree to have them investigated.
One of them was sent by a Bridge Lake grandmother who voiced her concerns about the perils of the long bus rides (more than two-and-a-half hours) her two grandchildren will have to face going to and from Horse Lake Elementary School next September.
Her file “risk for children due to transportation issues” was not only accepted, but an investigation has been opened by the Ombudsperson.
A complaint from the BLES Parents Advisory Committee (PAC), regarding mismanagement at both the school and SD27 levels, has also been been accepted.
A complaint from the Community Steering Committee, regarding SD27 being in non-compliance with the board’s own policies, Ministry of Education orders and the School Act, has also been accepted.
The latter two complaints have been combined as one file and the Ombudsperson has opened an investigation.
PAC treasurer Eric de Vries has been having discussions with the Office of the Ombudsperson, and on May 6, he was told the investigations had been started.
“She said they would need two to three weeks to collect the data from the school district and she would call back if she needed any more information from us.”
de Vries says filing the complaints and going through the investigation process is more of an action to ensure that “something like this won’t happen again.”
“It will not bring us much help in our quest here, but we have started our next project to see if we can set up an independent school.”
de Vries says the key to the project is to see if they can get the school building for $1 from SD27.
He notes they would have to fund the first year when they start an independent school and then apply funding from the government the following year.
“The building is key because if we don’t have the building, then it’s going to very difficult to attract any parents to join the school.”
After the first year, de Vries says they would be under the same grant program as School District 27 in that they would have to have a certain level of registered students to be eligible for funding.
He notes, however, the independent school would only be eligible for the 50 per cent of the amount the school district would receive.
“The first step is to secure the building. If we get the building, we can start having community activities there.
“We have quite a few activities we would like to re-start, which have died off, in that beautiful gym.”
Noting they have about a year to start the independent school once they have secured the building, de Vries says that would give them a year to develop a plan and sell it to the community, so people will bring
their children to the school.
“So you have to have the building and the teacher lined up, and then, maybe the parents will agree to send their children to the school.”
Obviously, that won’t be able to be done before the next school year, says de Vries.
The plan is to secure the school and set up programs for the home-school children in the gym.
“We also have to try to get a teacher who is a local resident or is willing to become a local resident, so we have somebody to present to the parents so they can have confidence in the new teacher.
“If we can get 15 to 20 students, we would be getting somewhere, especially if we have a program right up to Grade 12, and then we can expand our base of kids a little bit.”