Cedar parents, Snuneymuxw challenge district on school closure plan

NANAIMO – A group of Cedar parents are challenging Nanaimo school district's plan to close schools in that area.

A group of Cedar parents are challenging Nanaimo school district’s plan to close schools in that area and a petition organized by the group is expected to go before the legislature today (July 18).

Save Cedar Schools formed about 10 days ago after about 150 community members met to discuss next steps following the school board’s decision to move forward with several elements of its 10-year facilities plan, said spokesman Steve Rae.

The group is reacting to the school board’s recent decision to close Cedar Secondary School at the end of next year with secondary students going to John Barsby or Ladysmith, close Woodbank Primary and North Cedar Intermediate schools in June 2015, and reopen Cedar Secondary as an elementary school in the 2015-16 school year. Trustees also voted to close South Wellington Elementary immediately.

Rae said parents have collected more than 500 signatures on a petition that calls for Education Minister Peter Fassbender to appoint a special advisor to the district to review the facilities plan, which Nanaimo-North Cowichan NDP MLA Doug Routley will take to the legislature today.

“There’s thousands of people in this community who are very unhappy,” said Rae. “We understand that tough decisions need to be made. But the decision they made was a rushed judgment and it’s not the right thing to do.”

Parents have concerns about the plan to move secondary students out of the community, including bullying, transportation, ability to participate in extra-curricular activities, having the largest elementary school in the district and moving students from the newest high school to an older one. Where the money to renovate Cedar Secondary to accommodate elementary students is going to come from is also a concern, he said.

“It will have a devastating impact on our community as a whole,” said Rae.

Routley said he will submit the petition and deliver a statement to the legislature asking government to recognize the impact school closures will have on the community and to step up and provide additional resources, including a special advisor, to allow for more consultation to come up with a plan that better answers the priorities of constituents.

“[Constituents] are telling me, without exception, that this plan does not suit what they have told the district,” he said. “This is a prime example of where the circumstances are unique. It’s unreasonable to bus kids for an hour or two hours to another community.”

Joining the Save Cedar Schools coalition to challenge the school closure plans is Snuneymuxw First Nation.

Chief Douglas White III said Snuneymuxw is seeking time to reconsider and talk about the decision.

He said it will be looking into all avenues to challenge the district’s decision.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the board is determined to move forward with the Cedar element of the facilities plan.

“It’s a key component because of our ability to do it without needing assistance from the provincial government,” he said, adding that money from the district’s annual facilities grant could be used to do the renovations.

Brennan said consolidating secondary students will allow students access to better support services, more extra-curricular opportunities and increased course selections, and trustees will work with staff to provide transportation options that allow Cedar students to take advantage of extra-curricular activities.

“If people want to continue to oppose it, they can do that,” he said.

“But this school board is moving forward.”