Castlegar parents ask school board to keep Grade 7 in elementary schools

Castlegar elementary schools are over-capacity

The majority of Castlegar parents have told School District 20 officials that they do not want Grade 7 students transferred to the high school.

Parents and community members have had the opportunity over the past several weeks to let the local school board know what they think is the best short-term solution to the overcrowding problem at Castlegar’s elementary schools.

The district is presenting two options — adding portables to Twin Rivers Elementary and Kinnaird Elementary, or move Grade 7 students up to Stanley Humphries Secondary School. Both Twin Rivers Elementary and Kinnaird Elementary are over capacity and Robson Community School is expected to reach capacity in the next four years.

RELATED: Solutions sought for Castlegar school overcrowding

Almost 700 people filled out a survey from the school district and 75 per cent of respondents preferred the portable option.

The school district held a public forum Dec. 3 at Stanley Humphries Secondary. About 30 community members attended.

“I am surprised this room is not full,” said SD 20 superintendent Bill Ford at the meeting’s opening.

The meeting included a presentation by Ford and a time for the community to speak.

Every person that spoke was against moving the Grade 7 students up to the high school.

Many of the speakers were passionate and concerned and one brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience.

“I am concerned for the loss of innocence,” said a woman who is both a teacher and a mother of a 10-year-old son. “Not because this [Stanley Humphries School] is not a safe place, not because my kid is going to start doing drugs, not because of any of those things.

“I am worried about play. As a Grade 8 teacher, I try to create those moments of play, but it is not the same as going outside for half an hour, its not the same as time spent in free play … You don’t get to play when there are 18-year-olds and you are trying to live up to the big kids and you are walking and strutting your stuff.

“So, it wouldn’t be anything that the building is doing that wouldn’t keep our kids safe, it would just be that they have to grow up to be someone they didn’t need to be at the age of 11 or 12.”

One father expressed his frustrations with the Ministry of Education for putting the district in this type of situation to start with.

Several people spoke to the fact that neither option was a good option, and they were choosing the portable option just because it was the better of the two.

The main problem with the community’s preferred option is cost.

Ford said moving the students to the high school was, “the more fiscally responsible option.”

Each portable is expected to cost $250,000. After the district buys the two portables, its local capital budget will pretty much be depleted.

The options on the table are only short-term solutions. The district will be tackling a long-term solution — asking the province for a new school — in their long range facility plan that will be updated this spring.

But in order for a new school to be built, the Ministry of Education has to approve the project and provide the funding. Ford explained that accomplishing that is not an easy task, as competition for that funding comes from the province’s 60 different school districts. Each year, only a limited number of projects get approved.

The school board will decide the matter at its next meeting on Dec. 16.

That meeting has been moved to Kinnaird Elementary School so Castlegar residents can attend.

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betsy.kline@castlegarnews.com

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