Group stages walk to protest school facilities plan

NANAIMO – Parents, students and school district employees concerned about proposed school closures walked from Ladysmith to Nanaimo .

A group of parents, students and school district employees concerned about proposed school closures walked from Ladysmith to Nanaimo Saturday to raise awareness about the issue.

The district’s draft 10-year facilities plan calls for closing a net total of 10 school facilities over the next decade, starting with South Wellington and North Oyster elementary schools and the junior learning alternatives site at Five Acres this June.

In response, several parents of South Wellington students formed the group Stand Up for Public Education Rights. The group organized a 22-kilometre walk starting from Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley’s constituency office on First Avenue in Ladysmith and ending at his constituency office at Southgate Mall.

More than 50 people participated – some walking the entire distance and others walking part of the way – taking about four and a half hours to make the trek, said Tiffany Nelson, SUPER spokeswoman.

“It was a good walk, the weather held,” she said. “We had a really broad representation from stakeholder groups. I feel like we did raise community awareness.”

The walk included representatives from the South Wellington and North Oyster communities, Cedar Secondary School students, support workers and teachers.

The group’s mission statement is to support the right of students throughout the district to access quality public education within their home communities.

“The argument is that the communities affected have the right to make that decision for themselves,” said Nelson. “Rural is an equally valid lifestyle and educational choice to urban centres. We don’t want to see a bigger is better agenda pushed on communities.”

The group believes the provincial funding structure results in chronic underfunding and there is fiscal mismanagement at the district level as well, she said.

Closing South Wellington will mean a net loss of funding for the district, as the school receives extra funding through a small schools grant, Nelson added.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the district receives extra funding for both South Wellington and North Oyster, but the focus of the facilities plan is on providing better learning environments for students and better teaching environments for teachers, not on saving money.

He said no decisions have been made yet and trustees are listening to what people have to say in advance of the board meeting at the end of June, when the consultation period ends and trustees will consider input received.

“Everything is up in the air until the 26th of June,” said Brennan.

For more information about the district’s facilities plan, please go to www.sd68.bc.ca. For more information about SUPER, please go to http://supe687.wix.com/super.