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High schools could be closed for 2010 Games

VANOC to make request to the school district

By Alison Taylor

High school kids throughout the corridor may be out of school for close to a month over the 2010 Olympic Games to make room for volunteer accommodation.

Maureen Douglas, director of communications for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games, confirmed the possibility at Tuesday’s Parents Advisory Council meeting at Myrtle Philip School.

She said VANOC would be putting forward a request to the local school district that would see all four high schools in the corridor used to house some of the 25,000 volunteers needed for the Games.

No decisions have been made, she cautioned, and any decisions will be vetted by parents, the PAC and the school district.

“We’re really committed to finding solutions to all of this that work with the community,” said Douglas.

Because VANOC is displacing the students, they are looking at ways to get them involved in the Games.

Talks are underway to examine the feasibility of lowering the volunteer age requirement from 19 years old to 15 for Whistler, said Douglas. That will allow the students to really get something back from the Olympics. She used the example of the Green Team, volunteers who help Olympic guests use the recycling programs, as a way students could get involved.

And while it’s great to give students the opportunity to really benefit from this unique Olympic experience, parent Mecki Facundo, who will have a daughter in Grade 12 in 2010, expressed some worries about the plan.

“I am very concerned about how we deal with the graduating students,” she said the following day.

With the Olympics, followed by Spring Break, followed by the Paralympics, students will not be focusing on their academics for almost two months, said Facundo.

By the time they get back to school, the provincial exams will be on the horizon, and that’s what has her most concerned.

The school district is looking at ways to deal with that.

“The first commitment is that no one should lose education time,” school trustee Christopher Vernon-Jarvis told the parents. “Education comes first in my book.”

Douglas also confirmed to the PAC meeting, which was attended by roughly 65 parents, that VANOC has no plans at this time to take over the elementary schools in the corridor.

But talks are underway with the district’s 2010 committee to examine the pros and cons of closing the elementary schools or keeping them open during the Games.

School trustee Andrée Janyk said they hope to make a decision on that by June to allow them to do as much planning as possible.

“Nobody on this committee is committed one way or the other way,” Janyk reassured the parents.

Parents had several questions about the logistics of closing the schools and how children would make up the lost school time.

After the meeting parent Julia Smart, a former Olympian who has two children in the elementary school, said she was not in favour of closing the schools. She said having the children in one place would offer unique opportunities such as the chance to bring in Olympic athletes for talks.

Closing the schools also presents a “huge challenge for the parents,” she said.

“(It will) deny the parents a chance to get involved and volunteer,” said Smart.

Douglas said VANOC is well aware of the workforce challenges for the Olympics. If schools close there is the possibility one parent will not be able to work or volunteer.

“We don’t want to see decisions create workforce challenges,” she said.

One of the parents asked if the municipality had considered expanding its after school programs, like Kids on the Go, to help parents who are most likely going to be working around the clock during the Games.

“It hasn’t been considered yet,” said Sharon Fugman, manager of the municipality’s 2010 Games Office.

Parents will have the chance to provide input in several ways in the weeks to come.

There will be a roundtable discussion on Monday, March 12 at the Whistler Secondary School from 7 to 9 p.m. and a survey will be sent out in April for feedback.