Frustrated Discovery Passage school community appears resigned to closure

Closure: Parents lament short notice

Despite the Board of Education’s assertions that their minds are still not made up about potential school closures, parents of students at Discovery Passage Elementary have seemingly resigned themselves to the fact that the facility will close.

Only about a third of the seats in the gymnasium of the school were full at Tuesday night’s community consultation, and the faces of the few people in attendance were clearly dejected. While some were still angry about the seemingly-imminent closure, most were there to talk about how the district can make it go as smoothly as possible, asking if the board has plans to increase parking capacity and address congestion issues at Ripple Rock – the proposed school Discovery Passage students will attend should closure go forward – and questions about transportation strategies.

According to parent and Parent Advisory Council (PAC) member Heidi Cuff, who has attended all consultations and board meetings since the notice came that Discovery Passage was one of the schools to be considered for closure, “a lot of people didn’t show because it was, like, what’s the point? Everything we have put forward has been dismissed. As much as they say the decision hasn’t been made…” she said, leaving it open-ended.

Cuff spoke at the meeting about how, if given more time, she feels they could have come up with some alternative, but to spring something like a school closure on a community and give them 60 days to come up with viable alternatives isn’t realistic.

“I would love to implement a neighbourhood learning centre,” Cuff told the Mirror after the meeting, “or partition off the school and help them find renters or a buyer, but six weeks just isn’t enough time. It feels as though we have been brought in for the last inning and with no experience or background in the education system have had to play catch up with finances, politics, history – and then turn around and provide them with viable solutions to this whole situation is completely unfair.”

Heather VanBuskirk-Gauthier, who sits alongside Cuff on the Discovery Passage School’s PAC, also spoke at the meeting, giving an impassioned speech about fighting for their children, trustee accountability, community, fairness and choice.

“Since the legislation came in that you cannot enforce school catchment boundaries because parents have the right to have their children attend their school of choice, we have chosen this school for our kids – and now you are taking away our choice,” she told the board.

VanBuskirk-Gauthier told the Mirror after the meeting she doesn’t feel that there was ever any intention to consider alternatives. Closure was a foregone conclusion, she says.

“There is no Plan B, and they’ve made it clear that any solution we’ve presented to them just won’t work.”

The trustees, however, say they are, indeed, still torn on the matter and have in no way made up their minds.

“I’m really very conflicted about the future of Discovery Passage,” trustee Joyce McMann emphasized. “I know the evidence presented in our plan looks pretty bleak, but I also know that, having spent eight years here as a Family Place coordinator, there are wonderful things about this school.”

Trustee Daryl Hagen echoed that sentiment, saying, “Whether this is the right (decision) or the wrong one, I haven’t made up my mind. But I really do believe that we’ve done a lot of good things for this school district, and spent a lot of time trying to negotiate more money for this school district on behalf of schools like this. So please don’t think we’ve let you down,” adding that the thought of the public thinking the trustees aren’t fighting for their kids, “breaks my heart.”

For her part, VanBuskirk-Gauthier acknowledges the board is doing what they can, saying, “the whole system is in trouble. This board is in a horrible position,” and placing the blame for the current situation squarely on the provincial government, but she also feels that if the board really wanted to be offered alternatives, “they would sit down with our school community and come up with solutions,” instead of asking for questions by email and at two consultation meetings in the gym.