A committee of West Boundary residents plans to appeal the Boundary school board’s resolution to close Midway Elementary School (MES), now home to 31 K-3 students.
Walt Osellame, retired educator and spokesperson for the Committee to Save MES, said Friday, March 18, that the Boundary Board of Education (school board) hadn’t meaningfully listened to affected parents and staff before its contentious vote on Tuesday. The committee now wants the school board to hold off on plans to shutter MES at the end of June and to bring students and staff to neighbouring Greenwood Elementary School (GES) in September.
“As disappointed as we are, we’re still hoping to work with the (school) board. At the very best, I’d hope that the board agrees that we should have a working group and that they should give us a certain amount of time to reconsider this,” Osellame said Friday.
The school board snubbed the committee’s repeated requests for face-to-face meetings, he continued, adding that there was never a sound rationale for closing MES. The Boundary’s School District 51 (SD 51) defended its rationale using eleventh-hour statistics purporting to show West Boundary primary students were disproportionately vulnerable compared to students in east end of the district — a move Osellame said left precious little for the committee to respond.
But School board chair Rose Zitko and School District 51 (SD 51) Superintendent Anna Lautard have defended the consultation process as well as the district’s proposal to amalgamate the schools at GES.
A Feb. 7 letter to the school board and SD 51 shows the committee asked for a five-year “plan of remediation” calling on all three sides to work towards keeping MES open. Asking for a letter of reply, the letter suggests launching the working group at Feb. 24’s public consultation at Midway’s high school, Boundary Central Secondary.
Osellame said the committee never got a response. The committee never had the chance to put forward the “myriad responses and solutions” promised in its letter. Instead, he said the school board held a special public meeting in Greenwood on March 10 that was billed as a question-and-answer session.
Zitko said the school board received the committee’s letter, as well as its petition bearing over 700 signatures from current and former West Boundary residents who opposed the closure. Trustees explained to committee members at the school board’s February meeting that the consultation process was laid out in B.C.’s School Act; that the process called for written submissions and for public meetings, all of which Zitko said the board delivered.
“I am sorry if any parents felt that they were ignored. That was never our intention,” she told The Gazette. “We felt that our consultation process gave parents plenty of opportunities to address their concerns with us.”
All six school board trustees gave considered explanations before casting their votes at Tuesday’s meeting, she said, adding that she’d voiced her own reasons for supporting the closure.
Zitko and Lautrad said the school board and SD 51 have long been concerned to maximize support for West Boundary students. Data collected by district teachers and analyzed by outside researchers shows a worsening trend across five areas of early childhood development across the West Boundary, Lautard said March 10.
“Our reason for closing (MES), as I’ve said before, has always been to enhance the consistency of support for students in Greenwood and Midway,” Lautard said.
“I can’t make people believe me,” she continued, explaining that she’d presented the statistics at the school board’s request. Even then, she said she was hesitant because she felt the statistics would be seen as blaming West Boundary parents.
The survey results were masked to shield vulnerable families, but Lautard said, “I feel uncomfortable ‘othering’ marginalized students and families.”
Kids at the far west end of the district already attend a K-7 school at Rock Creek’s West Boundary Elementary and it’s time to do the same at GES, Zitko explained.
Osellame said the surveys’ 2019 results were outdated on the one hand, and sh ould’ve called for action sooner, on the other.
SD 51 first suggested amalgamating the schools at GES in November 2021, after Lautard said the district had formulated a strategic plan highlighting the education ministry’s calls for greater equity in learning outcomes.
Osellame said the committee will pursue its appeal on a nine-point basis, to be filed next week.
A reconfigured K-7 at GES would put around 73 students under one roof — “a small school,” in Lautard’s estimation.