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Board to discuss 2010 school closures, again

Contracts with VANOC for empty school space still not signed

The Sea to Sky school district will meet this month to close schools during the Olympic Games even though no deals are in place to lease out school space.

  “…There has been absolutely no information as to how our schools will be utilized during the Games,” said Cathy Jewett, the chair of the District Parent Advisory Council for Sea to Sky.

Meetings regarding the calendar and how school space would be used have been going on between stakeholders for about two years. At one meeting, said Jewett, there were some discussions of the high schools being used by security or medical personnel. There has never been any interest in leasing out the elementary school space.

It is unclear as to how compensation would be offered. The Vancouver Organizing Committee has stated that legacy assets would be offered in return for the space, not cash.

However, there has been a community understanding that there would be money from the deal as the hope was to use the cash to pay for the programming needed to look after the hundreds of kids out of school while parents worked or volunteered at the Games.

Dave Walden, chair of the school board, said discussions with VANOC about their utilizing the empty schools has become frustrating.

“The patience of the board is running thin,” he said.

In an e-mail, Games organizers would say: “…that it is currently in the process of exploring a number of options for temporary housing during Games time.

“The proposed closure for Whistler Secondary school covers a length of time that is potentially suitable for Games-time use of the space. However, given the stage of discussions and planning it would be premature to comment further at this time.”

There are other unsolicited offers for the school space said Walden.

In 2007 VANOC requested that all four high schools in the district be closed to house volunteers and other workforce during the event.

VANOC asked that elementary schools stay open because it recognized that working parents would have to take vacations at Games time to look after their kids if they closed. The RMOW also wanted the schools to stay open.

However, after community meetings and a survey it was decided that all elementary schools would close for a spring break week during the Olympics, the high schools in Pemberton and Squamish would close for two weeks and the Whistler high school would close for three weeks and two days.

(In Whistler 32 per cent of those who responded to the board survey on the school closures said they felt the schools should stay open.)

It is unlikely the calendar will change significantly at this point, said Walden.

“It is not written in stone but in my opinion it is very unlikely that it is going to be changed,” he said, adding that the board made the calendar decision at the high school level partly based on the belief that many kids would skip school to take in the Games experience.

Brain Buchholz, who attended the Sydney Games in 2000 and has just returned from enjoying the Beijing Games, does not support the closure.

“As a parent of a graduating student… I see it as an unnecessary upset to all kids, but particularly the Grade 12 kids, that year,” he said

“I think it is a fallacy to believe that a lot of kids would miss a lot of school.

“I’m the father of a teenage child and she and her friends have not mentioned once the alleged excitement of the Olympics.”

He also feels the board should be negotiating hard with VANOC for the school space.

“Why would the school board be expected not to benefit…,” said Buchholz. “I’m not going to say that money will make it right but it is a starting point.”

Concern has also been voiced about how missing close to a month of high school may impact the student’s ability to write provincial exams.

“The other areas where there has been no information forthcoming from the Ministry of Education is what is going to happen with our provincial exams,” said Jewett.

“If the school calendar is adopted, particularly at (Whistler Secondary), that is going to be a huge adjustment to the school year and we need assurances that there is going to be flexibility in the exam schedule.”

A Ministry of Education spokesman said there will be a number of exam sessions so it will not be difficult to plan around the dates. There will be no special exam sessions put on for Olympic districts and no requests were made to do so by affected school boards.

Community discussions continue around what programs if any will be offered to families for those kids who are out of school. Whistler-Blackcomb is planning on offering full day on-mountain ski and snowboard camps for residents. The price is yet to be determined.

It is not clear yet what will be on offer for those families whose kids don’t want to be on the mountain.

“It has been an item for discussion,” said Sharon Fugman, manager of 2010 Games Services for the RMOW. “None of the details have been established,”

Fugman hopes the details on the Whistler-Blackcomb program and community programs will be available before the end of the year.

So far every Olympic host community has adopted a different school calendar. The Vancouver School Board will announce its Olympic calendar in November.

Transportation issues are dominating the discussions said school board chair Ken Denike.

“The issue for Vancouver is really more to do with transportation,” he said.

“I don’t think there is much support for the notion that our kids are going to be so much involved on their own or with their family.”

This week the Vancouver Elementary School Teacher’s Association said its members are opposed to public school closures because of the impact they would have on families.

Richmond, home of the speed skating oval, decided earlier this year to move their spring break to after the Olympic and Paralympic Games are over.

“We know that there are people who are going to get tickets to the Olympics, but that is very small percentage,” said school board chair Linda McPhail.

“…We thought the best way for students in the Richmond district to have that Olympic experience would probably be in school.

“What we (also) had was a lot of concern about daycare. We have 50 facilities operating out of 38 of our schools, so if the schools were closed what would that look like?”

And West Vancouver, home of freestyle and snowboarding, has decided to move its traditional two-week spring break to the Olympic time frame.