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Parents oppose school closure plan

>Board expected to make decision at Nov. 7 meeting

The organization that represents parents throughout the Sea to Sky corridor is not supporting a plan that would see schools closed for the 2010 Olympic Games.

In a letter to the board of the Howe Sound school district the chair of the District Parent Advisory Council, Cathy Jewett, said the group cannot support the proposal unless plans are in place to look after children in the community.

“Our position was that working parents would be hard pressed to find childcare if the schools closed and so to a certain extent it is a safety issue for the children because parents that work in the resort and a lot of other associated businesses in the corridor cannot get the time off,” she said.

“So parents would be faced with some really hard choices, those being if they can’t find child care to either leave children at home unsupervised, use unlicensed childcare, or quit their jobs.”

The letter followed a meeting DPAC had with representatives from almost every school in the district, RMOW representatives, Vancouver Organizing committee for the 2010 Games staff, a Howe Sound School Teachers Association representative, school trustees, and the superintendent of schools.

The position was also supported at the meeting by VANOC.

“We are recommending that the (elementary schools) stay in session, said VANOC spokeswoman Maureen Douglas.

“And we are doing so because we do have concerns over the impact that closing all the schools would have on childcare responsibilities for parents and the ensuing impact on the corridor’s workforce.

“From the time the school board and the PACs began to have meetings to discuss the issue until now it has just become more and more apparent what the impacts could be if parents are put in the position of trying to find childcare while they also have responsibilities at work, and that really concerns us.”

The school closure proposal put forward by the school district in September would see spring break moved from March to Feb. 22-26 to coincide with the last week of the Games. As well, Whistler’s elementary schools and the secondary schools in Pemberton and Squamish would be closed from Feb.15 to 19, the first week of the Olympics. Whistler’s secondary school would be closed for an additional week starting Feb. 8.

When it came to the secondary schools DPAC also had some concerns.

“As far as secondary students go we felt we didn’t have enough information to make a decision as to whether that was the best way to go,” said Jewett. “Until we see a full calender we can’t whole-heartedly back it.”

Parents at Whistler Secondary passed a motion at their last PAC meeting to support closing the school for just two weeks to match other high schools in the district.

Parents of graduating students are particularly worried about how the school closure will affect provincial exam results and preparation for post secondary education.

Douglas said VANOC would like to use the secondary schools to house various volunteers and workers and will sit down to iron out the details on dates when the school board is ready.

The municipality also voiced concerns over the proposal.

School board superintendent Dr. Rick Erickson said the board will take the information it heard along with more input from education partner representatives on Nov. 7 and come up with a way to move forward on the calendar proposal on Nov.14.

"At that meeting the board will consider the feedback and make some kind of decision and we will go on from there," he said.

"We are aware of the challenges the Resort Municipality of Whistler would have should the kids be in the community and VANOC has in the past expressed its view about the need for workers to be working and they haven't requested the elementary schools."

During the recent DPAC meeting it became clear that there is not enough childcare spaces in Whistler, Pemberton or Squamish to absorb elementary school kids who may be out of school and looking for programs. Whistler only has capacity for 50 students and there are close to 600 elementary students in the community.

Nor, said Jewett, is there enough information available for parents who commute form Squamish to Whistler to work about how travel will be affected by the Games to organize what their schedule might be. As it stands the Brennan Park community centre would be working only regular hours while parents may be faced with considerably longer commutes if they must park and ride to Whistler during the Games.

There is no licensed childcare centre in Squamish.

“We did get a feeling that there were board members who were really not sure which way to go with this so I think they appreciate having the feedback,” said Jewett.

“We are the end-user, our children are the end users, we are the guardians of those end users and we, more than anybody else, because we are their parents, have their very best interests at heart. So I think they will listen to what the parents have to say.”

Myrtle Philip Elementary DPAC representative Suzanne Thomas hopes the board will listen to this latest input from parents and other stakeholders.

“VANOC and the RMOW made it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that they did not support the closure and I don't know how the school board could decide to go against that and jeopardize the safety of our kids,” she said.

“I would like the board to reconsider the proposal and change it to reflect the DPAC’s recommendation.”