Most area residents who attended the public forum held at Bridge Lake Elementary School (BLES) on March 2 were disappointed about the format and the lack of time they were given on the microphone to address the school trustees.
They also felt there was a gag order in place, which prevented them from discussing their dissatisfaction with administration issues both at the School District #27 (SD27) and local school levels.
For her part, SD27 board of trustees chair Tanya Guenther said it was “wonderful to see so many people come out and share their passion” for BLES and the local community.
“The board and district staff members recognize that any consideration of school closure is very emotional for everyone involved, including students, parents, school staff, community members and members of the board.”
Public consultation is the opportunity for the board to seek further input and information from members of the public, Guenther said, adding it ensures the school board has as much information as possible as part of the decision-making process.
“The [trustees] are very appreciative for everyone who has taken time to attend the public forum and/or provide written submissions to the board. There is still time to provide further input before the board is anticipated to make its decision at the end of April.”
Comments can be submitted through a survey (available at www.sd27.bc.ca), or by letter or e-mail sent to email@example.com, she explained.
However, BLES Parents Advisory Committee (PAC) president Piri de Vries said the people who sent letters and e-mails are still waiting to hear answers from the board of trustees – something other than notification the letters and e-mails have been received.
SD27 superintendent Mark Thiessen had said district administration wouldn’t provide any information until the March 2 public meeting because that way everyone would have the information at the same time.
Bridge Lake and area residents believe those letters and e-mails will never be answered.
At that same meeting, Thiessen told audience members they could also attend the March 29 school board meeting as a delegation and speak about their issues and questions in front of the trustees.
de Vries said the school PAC held a meeting and decided they would take Thiessen up on his invitation.
She anticipates there will be a bus load of area residents – up to 50 people – going to Williams Lake on March 29 to show a united front against the school closure.
“We are preparing a timeline of evidence about what has happened at the school … and we will be presenting all of the letters and e-mails that have been sent to the district that didn’t get replies or the replies that we did get to some of them.”
de Vries wants to make sure the trustees understand there will definitely be more children available to go to the school next year.
She noted the community has been canvassed and there will be many children ready to be enrolled.
It looks like more people want to come and live in rural communities, she said.
“If they close that school, it will be so difficult to get it opened again.
In the PAC’s delegation notice sent to SD27, PAC members asked the school trustees to forego making a decision on the announced closure or non-closure of BLES, so the decision can be deferred for one year.
“[This would allow] the required process of due diligence, proper inquiry as to the relevant facts, full public consultation and fair hearings to be conducted, and related management issues to be dealt with, during that period prior to any decision being made such that the appearance and fact of fair public consultation, good faith, and proper administrative process can be achieved, which is currently not the case.”
de Vries said she is hopeful the school board will look favourably at deferring the decision for one year.