The North Okanagan Shuswap Teachers Association has filed a grievance over School District #83’s announcement it is restructuring the alternate school program.
The grievance is linked to the process undertaken by the school district when it decided to close the alternate schools and place students back into regular classrooms with other learning supports.
It was announced last week that the four alternate programs that serve up to 32 students a year will be closed.
Other school closure processes are underway for Parkview, Silver Creek and Armstrong Elementary schools, but the school district is following a required minimum 60-day consultation process. This process requires an opportunity for input from the public.
The board’s most recent budget report shows a cost savings of $150,000 from the alternate program reconfiguration.
Brenda O’Dell, the NOSTA president, says they met with the school district Tuesday, but would not comment publicly on the specifics of the grievance.
“I can say we are saddened by the announcement of the loss of a program that has been served by very dedicated teachers working with a group of children, who, for whatever reason, are having real difficulties in a brick-and-mortar school.”
North Okanagan-Shuswap School District officials are defending changes to programs geared towards students with behavioural and mental health issues.
“We are using this funding to build more services and supports into our brick-and-mortar schools as we cannot sustain the alternate school model that cost upwards of $27,000 a year per student,” said Morag Asquith, director of student learning.
“We are excited about this restructuring as it fulfills many of the challenges we face operating the alternate model that had been identified in the review process.”
But the parent of a student who was part of the school district’s alternate program is upset by its closure.
Debbie Latimer says her son had extreme difficulty in a regular school environment and was spending nearly every day in the principal’s office.
Latimer says putting some of these students back into regular classrooms does a disservice to both the special- needs students and the other students in that classroom.
“It saddens me a lot that this program is being cut. It is a huge mistake and the long-term repercussions will be grim.”
The decision was also made in advance of the rest of the budget process, which is still ongoing and won’t be approved by board trustees until their May 10 regular meeting.
But Asquith says the goal is to build more learning supports into schools, including adding more learning-resource teachers and school psychologist time into the system, especially for rural schools.
“This restructuring was not a board decision. It was a committee of people working together to determine what is the best way to proceed with supports for students,” said Asquith.
“This committee involved principals, alternate teachers, school psychologists, counsellors, parents and classroom teachers.”
-With files from Richard Rolke, Vernon Morning Star