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School board approves school closures in 2010

Whistler-Blackcomb confirms programs for school break in Olympic year

The Sea to Sky School District has approved a school calendar for the Olympic year, which sees both elementary and secondary schools close during the event.

However, there is still an opportunity for schools in the same geographical area to tweak the calendar to match their needs.

“It can be modified, but schools need to consult with parents and the principals,” said School Board Chair Dave Walden.

The board held a meeting Oct. 22 to adopt the calendar. Members of the Parent Advisory Council (PAC) from Whistler’s Myrtle Philip elementary school made a verbal submission to the school outlining some of the concerns they had. The PAC said it would gather more information from its parents with a view to making some modifications to the calendar.

The PAC at Signal Hill Elementary School in Pemberton sent a letter to the board’s meeting explaining that it would not support the 2010 calendar.

In it the PAC outlined their concerns including:

• VANOC has indicated that they will not be renting the elementary schools, so any financial benefits that could have been gained for the school’s (are unlikely).

• Employers have now given their staff a clearer idea of what is expected of them during the Olympic time period. (No time off) will be the mandate for most companies.

• Families with elementary school-aged children have limited or no options for childcare.

• If transportation is to be an issue between Pemberton and Whistler, how are Pemberton children supposed to get to programs in Whistler?

• Parents believe that consistency in the children’s routine is better served than time off school.

• If schools close during the Olympic period, you will see a dramatic decrease in attendance in March/April. Families will be exhausted and will take the time they need.

SHE’s PAC plans to do a survey of parents in November, at the board’s request, to find out if they want the school open or closed during the Games. It also plans to liaise with Pemberton Secondary.

“Whatever happens in Pemberton would have to happen pretty much for both schools based on the school bussing,” said SHE PAC chair Jenna Markovic.

If parents surveyed want the schools open the board may work to see that happen.

“….if that is what the partners want and we can do it… then the Pemberton elementary could stay open,” said Walden, adding that it would have to work for all the educational partners including teachers, CUPE staff and so on.

“That’s the way I see it.

“That is the idea of having local school calendars.”

Ultimate authority for the calendar rests with the board, though the process is consultative.

Neither VANOC nor the Resort Municipality of Whistler support the closure of the elementary schools.

To date only Whistler-Blackcomb has announced that it will run programs for elementary kids during the Spring Break Olympic closure.

“I can say definitely, yes, we are going to have something,” said Otto Kamstra, general manager of the ski and snowboard program for Whistler-Blackcomb.

And, said Kamstra, it is likely the program will offer childcare after the ski day is done, on weekends, and even evening care if it is needed and does not interfere with already operating programs. The programs will be open to all kids in the corridor.

“We have a rough sketch of what it will look like,” said Kamstra.

“In terms of pricing we want to make it affordable for the community members as well and we are looking at having it for every day the schools are closed during the Olympics, even weekends, and everything.”

Under the approved school calendar:

• Spring break for Whistler Secondary will be moved from March 8-12th, 2010 to February 22-26, 2010 and the school will also be closed for an additional two weeks prior to Feb.   22 and two school days following Feb. 26, resulting in a total closure from Feb. 8 to March 2, 2010.

• Spring break for Whistler area elementary schools will be moved to Feb. 22-26, 2010.

• Spring break for all Squamish and Pemberton schools will be moved from March 8-12, 2010 to Feb. 22-26, 2010.

• Pemberton, Don Ross and Howe Sound Secondary schools will be closed for an additional week prior to the moved spring break.

Walden said the board was still working on confirming a contract with VANOC for use for the secondary schools in the district.

“There has been some movement, but as of yet nothing serious,” he said. “It is getting closer.”

Walden re-iterated that the reason the school board wanted the high schools closed was over concerns of absenteeism, not because they wanted to rent out the space.

“…Trustees feel, and we have input from teachers and principals, that they believe that the absentee rate will be so high during the Olympics that it won’t be classes as usual,” he said.

“…The best educational delivery will be if the high schools are closed during the Olympics and we make up the time in another way.”

Whistler Secondary School principal Bev Oakley agreed that absenteeism has been an issue in the past with free-concert festivals like the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

“…Our absenteeism is higher during that festival because students are going to the festival, so I would imagine it would be much the same with the Olympics,” she said.

“I would imagine that families would be going to see some of the Olympic events together. I would imagine they would be getting tickets.”

However, said Oakley: “Our school is closed for longer that the elementary school or the other secondary schools in the district, so I would assume that that length is for rental of the facility, or why would we be longer.”

The Olympic year will be different, she said, but Oakley is hopeful that it will be a very positive experience.

“It will be a once in a lifetime experience for a lot of our students and Whistler Secondary, so I think looking at it form that point of view we are just taking a wait and see attitude,” she said.




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