School closures finalized

Despite parental efforts, including last-minute presentations and a petition, three schools in will be closed.

Despite parental efforts, including last-minute presentations and a petition, three schools in the Okanagan Skaha School District, including one in Summerland, will be closed after this school year is over.

On March 30, the school board adopted bylaws closing Trout Creek Elementary School, West Bench Elementary School and McNicoll Park Middle School.

In Summerland, the closure of Trout Creek Elementary School will also result in a reconfiguration at the three remaining schools.

Giant’s Head Elementary School will house students from Kindergarten to Grade 3; Summerland Middle School will become a Grade 4 to Grade 7 facility and Summerland Secondary School will accommodate those from Grade 8 to Grade 12.

The decision to close Trout Creek Elementary School generated a strong response  from the community.

On March 29, at least 200 parents and students gathered at the front lawn of the school district offices in Penticton to protest the closures.

At the meeting last week, parents made final pleas, asking the trustees to reconsider the closures.

A petition of 1,780 names was submitted, asking for a reversal of the decision to close Trout Creek Elementary School.

Jeff Plant, one of the Trout Creek parents, said the petition is significant because of the number of signatures it received.

He said the signatures are roughly half the number of Summerland residents who voted in the last municipal election in 2014.

Mike Pleasance, another parent opposed to the closure, said he was disappointed with the decision.

“The model the trustees were proposing was not supported by the community,” he said.

Linda Van Alphen, chair of the school board, said the meeting to finalize the school closures lasted four hours, but the presentations and petitions did not add new information for the board to consider.

She said the board does not have the mechanisms in place to deal with a petition.

Van Alphen is concerned that the names on the petition include children and people living outside the community.

However, Pleasance said the majority of the names were from Summerland residents.

A few of the signatures were from people living in Penticton and Naramata, communities served by the school district.

Names of minors were removed from the total, he added.

Pleasance said the signatures on the petition were collected in a 10-day period.

Angela Scholefield, another parent, is also upset with the decision to close Trout Creek Elementary School.

“I don’t understand why they are choosing to close one of the most efficiently run schools in the district and mess with the schools in Summerland,” she said. “Summerland is being treated unfairly.”

Scholefield said a letter from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 523, opposed the school board’s closure policy.

“Honesty and transparency in the process is extremely important in the public sector. Information needs to be brought forward to the public and shared with them,” the letter read.

Now that the board’s decision has been finalized, Plant said the parents will consider their next course of action.

This may include an appeal to the provincial Ministry of Education or legal action.

“The board may think it’s over, but I think the people of Summerland will have a different opinion,” he said.

 

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