Winlaw community not taking closure of local elementary school sitting down — threatens legal action
Emotions ran high and the tension inside the building could be cut with knife as the Kootenay Lake Board hosted a public meeting to discuss the potential closure of Winlaw Elementary School Monday evening in the Slocan Valley.
The meeting was yet another in a long line of similar events that have taken place during the last several months, but the enthusiastic crowd and passionate speeches elevated this particular meeting to a level not yet seen during the tumultuous process that is the facilities draft plan.
Kootenay Lake Board Chair Lenora Trenaman opened the meeting, outlining the agenda and explaining that each presenter would be given a strict timeline of 15 minutes to make their case.
Of course, as is often the case with impassioned members of the community, these firm windows of time were extended.
“We have mapped the journeys of three different student case scenarios,” said first presenters Eden DuPont and Shauna Robertson.
DuPont is chair of the PAC for Winlaw Elementary while Robertson, a parent, has two children in the school.
“Our aim is to show how these three scenarios developed positive student outcomes due to the location of Winlaw School and the community.”
DuPont and Robertson focused their case on the effect the closure would have on individual students, giving a history and impact statement for several particular children.
“In the mapping process we chose to show significant experiences in these three emerging themes: Winlaw area provides the opportunity for affordable properties and low income housing, which in turn reduces economic stressers for families,” they explained.
“Close proximity to the school from home is not only beneficial but also crucial for some student successes. The central location in the valley allows for less transit time and more access to work and services in Nelson and Castlegar.”
DuPont went on to explain how the benefits provided to these children by the school increased not only their life satisfaction but allowed and encouraged the families to stay in the community.
Other presenters, including former Nelson/Creston NDP MLA Corky Evans, former School District 8 trustee Penny Tees and Winlaw Elementary Grade 4 student Beatrix Kelly, spoke on the high population of young children and pregnant women in the community and stated that programs such as Strong Start and Wildflower are essential to the growth and education of these children.
Speakers added should Winlaw Elementary close, these programs would lose out on the essential and vitally important infrastructure and equipment that Winlaw Elementary provides.
“It makes me wonder what whoever is advising you is thinking,” Evans told the Board.
“After you retire, you want to look back and hopefully be thanked for your accomplishments, not be confronted by your own personal regret from not standing up when you could have,” Evans added.
“My name is Bea and I attend Winlaw Elementary School,” Kelly said in her speech.
“Our school has a garden project, a band, a bee hive, talent shows and Christmas concerts that can only happen because the community can help out. “
So I think Winlaw deserves to have a school.”
However, the most passionate address to the board came from local resident Joanne Ellis.
Ellis spoke with vehemence and was bristling with emotion, occasionally going off on a tangent only to snap back to relate everything she was speaking about to Winlaw Elementary.
Ellis touched on various subjects: funding issues, the loss of perspective from the government, the growing community in Winlaw, especially in regards to young children, comparisons to other school districts in the province, and more.
The most pertinent facet of Ellis’ speech was the announcement that the community would be seeking legal action against Kootenay Lake School District 8 should this current plan move forward.
Ellis said that the PAC would be accepting donations to the legal fund from concerned community members and assured them the once the costs were covered, the leftover money would be put to good use.
“They need [budgeted amount] plus taxes for initial consultation,” Ellis said.
“There is a jar labeled Winlaw School Legal Defense Fund, and please understand that if money is donated and PAC has more than [than required], the money will be used to enhance learning opportunities for our children.”
Board Chair Lenora Trenaman responded by saying that if the community believes this is something they need to do then they should do it, and understands the worries regarding the potential closure of such an important hub for the community.
“If that’s what they feel they need to do, then good for them,” Trenaman said to The Nelson Daily.
“Let them do it. They need to feel that we are doing our job legally and the community is very concerned about the potential loss of their school. If they feel that they need to look into legal opportunities then that is absolutely their right.”
Trenaman confirmed that the district has also conferred with legal experts.
“I can tell you that the district has [met] with two lawyers in regards to our processes, so as a district I’m not concerned. If we’re not doing something with due process then I guess we’ll find out.”
Trenaman explained that this process has been incredibly difficult not just for the communities but also for the trustees on the board. She expressed her empathy with concerned parents, teachers and locals and expressed that the students are still the primary focus.
“I can tell you that we’re impressed and that we are listening with our hearts and minds to the communities,” Trenaman confessed.
“As difficult as it is for the people in the communities there’s not a more difficult place for any trustee at any given time than considering the closure of a school; it goes against our grain.”
If one or all six of the schools were to close, the board put a plan in place to deal with the disposal of the properties.
The draft facilities plan includes a plan for “disposal for any SD8 property that does not presently provide programming for SD8 students.”
In addition to the public consultation meetings, the board approved two special meetings, one on July 5 for first and second reading of the School Closure Bylaw, and one on July 12 for third reading of the School Closure Bylaw.
The process continues Wednesday at Creston Education Centre (6-9 p.m.) before moving to Jewett Elementary School in Meadow Creek hosts Monday, June 20 (6-9 p.m.) and Nelson’s Trafalgar Middle School, Tuesday, June 21 (6-9 p.m.) in the school library.
Salmo Elementary School Library will be the venue for a Wednesday, June 22 (6-9 p.m.) meeting, while community residents in Yahk will have their say in the Yahk Elementary School Library on Monday, June 27 (6-9 p.m.) to close out the final round of meetings.
Delegations requests must be forwarded to Audrey Mackenzie at firstname.lastname@example.org a minimum of 48 hours prior to public meeting. Note: Delegations are limited to four per meeting.
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