Survey 60:40 in favour of keeping schools open during Games 

Roughly 60 per cent of elementary school parents surveyed this past week are not in favour of the schools closing during the 2010 Olympic Games.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 25, 130 surveys were completed in an online poll, organized by local parent Jim Watts at the request of the Myrtle Philip Parent Advisory Council (PAC).

The 60:40 split generally remains consistent, said Watts, regardless of how many surveys are filled out.

“I think some people were thinking it would be a higher percentage of elementary parents that wanted the school to stay open than it is but I think we can describe it as a small majority — 60 per cent,” said Watts, joking “that would be a good majority in politics, wouldn’t it?”

Though a small majority, the parents in favour of the schools staying open were the most vocal side of the debate on Watts’s website, which allowed parents to add a comment if they so wished.

The underlying theme of those comments was concern about who would look after the children while Whistler parents worked to keep the resort running during the Games, and calling on the municipality, Olympic organizers and the school board to come up with solutions.

“I am concerned about child care during this time for myself and many employees,” wrote one parent. “We think our children will get more out of the Games in the classroom… We will be too busy working to really allow our children to experience as much as they could in school.”

It is not clear if there will be programs in place to help meet the demands of working parents during the Games.

That, said Watts, as the parent of a son who is at Myrtle Philip, is where the school board has fallen short.

“Personally… I feel this wouldn’t be such a controversy if the school board had suggested alternatives…” he said. “I think the reason this has become such a toxic issue is that they just said ‘we’re closing’.”

Last week the Howe Sound School District announced a proposal to close Whistler’s two elementary schools and its secondary school during the first week of the Games (Feb. 15-19). It has rescheduled spring break for the second week of the Games (Feb. 22-26). Additionally, Whistler Secondary will be closed a third week, starting Feb. 8.

When asked to clarify the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games’ (VANOC’s) interest in the Whistler schools, executive vice president Terry Wright reiterated they were listening to the concerns of the local parents.

“What we have said to the school boards is that we would like to look at being able to use the high schools (in the corridor) to help accommodate volunteers — the people who would have to get up in the middle of the night if there was a heavy snowfall and deal with getting the mountain ready for a race in the morning,” explained Wright. “We are very sensitive to the concerns of the parents. We know it is the school board’s role to assess those concerns and to listen to them.”

He said VANOC backed away from the elementary schools early on due to initial feedback from the PACs. But it would be interested in using the space, if it was available.

“Yes, we would if they were offered to us and there was consensus from the board that they wanted to close them,” said Wright. “We are always looking for space in the corridor.”

Watts said the PAC is still hoping to hear from those parents who currently have kids in daycare but would be in elementary school by 2010.

To comment on the survey go to http://whistlerpac.wordpress.com . The poll will be running until Oct. 1.

  – with files from Clare Ogilvie

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