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BREAKING NEWS: SD20 votes to axe K-12 in surprise twist of proverbial knife

The board of School District No. 20 (SD20) voted last night 6-3 against K-12 in Rossland. The majority voted in favour of both K-7 at MacLean and K-9 at RSS, and these options will be left on the table for the bylaw's second reading at the special open board meeting at the RSS gym on Feb. 12.

The board voted on each of the three options in order: 1) K-12 at RSS, closing MacLean, 2) K-9 at RSS, closing MacLean, and 3) K-7 at MacLean, closing RSS.

Trustees Gordon Smith of Rossland, Jen Carter of Castlegar, and Mickey Kinakin of RDCK Electoral Areas I and J, voted in favour of K-12. Trustees Jo-Ann Bursey of Castlegar, Lorraine Manning and Mark Wilson of Trail, Kim Mandoli and Darrel Ganzert (board chair) of Beaver Valley, and Toni Driutti of Warfield voted against.

The K-9 option passed with only 2 trustees against: Kinakin and Carter. Smith voted in favour. The K-7 option also passed, but with 3 trustees against: Kinakin, Carter, and Smith.

Only the K-7 and K-9 options remain on the table for the board's discussion at the "special open board meeting" scheduled for Feb. 12 at the RSS gym.

"We're really disappointed that the board won't bring their discussion of K-12 to Rossland," said Aerin Guy, the manager of Rossland's Neighbourhoods of Learning (NOL) Commission. "To take [K-12] off the table in an environment where there were very few Rossland community members present is an insult, especially given the number of ideas and solutions presented through the community forum [on Jan. 15] and letter writing process."

"[The board] knew the community felt very strongly about K-12 as a sustainable option, and the option that provides the most opportunities for students in the district," Guy said.

In terms of opportunities for students in the region, Guy noted that this decision "effectively kills the blended learning program" that RSS has pioneered in the school district as part of the Ministry of Education's mandated 21st Century Learning approaches.

The Rossland Sustainability Commission recently released a report on the results of an open-question survey on what does and doesn't make Rossland a family friendly place to live. Among many responses, having K-12 in Rossland was overwhelmingly the top response.

Guy added, "[The board] has chosen to ignore the mountain of evidence provided to them of the overcrowding that will happen in the very near future. But their decision is basically irreversible. It's short sighted; it's in pursuit of dollars rather than good educational spaces for the kids here."

When the news hit NOL's Facebook page last night, it immediately lit up with comments reflecting disbelief, sadness, and rebellion. Options discussed in the forum ranged from appealing to the Ministry of Education to allow Rossland to secede from SD20, to deregistering all Rossland students to significantly reduce SD20's budget until the board changes their mind.

"They spoke last night: they are not listening to you, to us, and they don't care," one resident wrote. "They don't care that we put forth an amazing letter writing campaign raising many good points. They don't care that we had the most amazing turnout to brainstorm and present even more very creative ideas. This little town of Rossland has blown me away with its energy, creativity, and optimism. We have heard it many times before, it is time to think outside of the box."

One resident commented, "Clearly SD 20 is not representing the citizens of Rossland any longer. They received a very clear message as to what is or is not acceptable to the citizens of Rossland. They have acted in a manner contrary to that and in my view have lost the moral authority to govern or represent us."

Another resident agreed, "If these are the kinds of irrational and nonsensical decisions the school board are making, Rossland is far better off without SD20 anymore. Better that we put our time and effort into new solutions instead of wasting it fighting a losing battle."

Former NOL Committee manager Jennifer Ellis noted, "Unfortunately there is not much of a precedent for leaving a school district. That is not to say it can't be done. But we would have to be breaking new ground."

Section 176 of the BC School Act provides the legal avenue for secession. In particular, the Lieutenant Governor in Council—currently Judith Guichon—has the power to “create,” “define,” and "alter the boundaries" of a school district. In that event, the "assets of the board of a school district, including funds, must be disposed of …" for example, if "part of the area of the school district becomes included in another school district."

Although some precedents exist for portions of a school district to switch to another school district, there is no precedent for a stand-alone municipal school district, although the legislation does not rule this out.

"Talk of secession is only natural," Guy said. "It's what you hear on the streets, and when you talk to people. They're fed up with the situation. They don't have faith in the board as stewards of our kids' education in a lot of ways. And they really do value K-12 in the community."

NOL will meet tonight to discuss options and strategy for education in Rossland. "We're going to look into absolutely everything," said NOL member Shelley Ackerman. "We don't know which doors will open and which will close."