High school to remain closed for 17 days next year 

Parents want Olympic break reduced; PAC chair hopeful compromise can be reached

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It looks like Whistler's high school will stay closed for three and a half weeks over the 2010 Games despite a survey that found the majority of respondents wanted it shut for just two weeks.

The survey was carried out earlier this month by the high school's Parent Advisory Council on a very short time frame as the results had to be presented at the school district's meeting May 13.

It followed up on two letters that were submitted to the board in November of 2008 and on May 6 of this year, both stating that if the board did not rent out Whistler Secondary then the PAC would like the Olympic break reduced to two weeks, to match other high schools in the district.

But following the presentation of the survey findings to the board by high school parents Linda McGaw and Brian Buchholz the board voted to keep the current 2010 Whistler high school calendar, which sees the facility closed from Feb. 8 to March 2, 2010.

(The board did change the calendar for Squamish elementary schools allowing them to close for two weeks at Games time instead of one.)

The board is continuing discussions with other sporting organizations to rent out the Whistler high school, but it is unlikely it will be for the whole three-and-a-half week closure.

McGaw admitted to feeling very frustrated that the board did not make the change parents were asking for.

"It is very frustrating and it is tempting to throw up your hands and say this is hopeless but I refuse to do that," she said, adding that the topic will be discussed at the next PAC meeting May 26.

There were 116 returned ballots representing 143 out of 365 students.

Of those, 76 voted for the 10-day closure, 38 voted for the 17-day closure and two were spoiled.

Those in favour of the two-week break cited the disruption to education as the main reason for wanting a change. Those who supported the three-and-a-half week break mostly said they had already made plans to be away or had rented out their homes.

The staff was also surveyed with 23 ballots returned out of 26 total staff (22 teachers and four CUPE members). Of those 21 voted to close for 17 days and 2 voted for the 10-day closure. Many of those who supported keeping the current closure calendar cited concerns over absenteeism of the students.

District PAC chair Cathy Jewett is hopeful that there can still be some compromise on the calendar and that the days in the third week of the closure can be added back into instructional days, reducing the closure to 15 days.

"I think that what should happen is there should be a compromise and we at least get rid of those two extra days," said Jewett.

"(We should also) look at recapturing a couple of days in the week leading up to the Olympics. There is no reason that they need that full week off."

But school board chairman Dave Walden said it is very unlikely that the calendar for Whistler Secondary will be changed at this point.

"There was discussion on the board as to whether we should take it back to 15 days, but drawing up a calendar is very time consuming and takes a lot of effort," said Walden.

"...If we were to change that calendar we would have to go through this whole process again and it would be another four to six weeks (for a decision)... and we feel it is getting too close.

"We just feel it is too late."

He also pointed out that the board's decision to close the high school for three and a half weeks was based on its concern for the education of the students and not because of a potential deal with Olympic organizers.

The board is concerned that many students will be absent from school over the Games period so that teaching and learning will be compromised.

Many teachers agree said John Hall, president of the Howe Sound Teachers' Association.

"The greatest concern teachers have is disruption to learning and it seems ironic, I suppose, that we feel that closing would cause less disruption than being open," he said.

While some may argue that if a student misses class it is up to them to catch up, the reality, said Hall, is that teachers feel a great responsibility to makes sure students get all the education they need. If several different students are missing each day it becomes an impossible teaching situation for the educators.

"Teachers care and... they don't feel comfortable simply shutting the door," said Hall, adding that the decision to close for 17 instructional days also recognizes transportation issues staff may face as well as the desire by staff to take part in the Games.

And, while teachers are concerned about students in the community who are too young to volunteer at Games time and may find themselves at home alone for days on end as parents work, in the end educational concerns had to come first.

"We are part of the community there is no doubt about that, but at some point we do have to say, well, we do have to reflect our first priority (education)," he said.

But McGaw is not satisfied with the status quo arguing that: "The whole agenda seems to be driven by the families who are leaving town.

"I think it was very significant on those survey sheets... that not one person (supporting the 17-day closure) made any comment about 'little Johnny' missing an Olympic experience. The only comments attached to those surveys said, 'I have already rented my house' or 'we are planning to leave town.'

"The thing that really sticks in my gut the most is the thought of that school sitting empty and unused for a whole academic week. That is ludicrous and there is no need for it.

"Whistler school children are going to be locked out of an unused school facility."

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