School board votes for K-7 reconfiguration

Pender hub to open with 2021-22 transition year

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The Gulf Islands Board of Education has determined a new plan for configuring schools throughout the district, which will take effect at the start of the next school year in September 2021.

As recommended by staff, the board voted Wednesday to make all elementary schools cover kindergarten through Grade 7. A notice of motion was also introduced at the Nov. 18 board meeting to close Salt Spring Middle School at the end of June 2021.

Salt Spring students will attend Gulf Islands Secondary School on Salt Spring starting in their Grade 8 year. Students who live on Pender, Mayne, Galiano and Saturna islands will attend junior high school on Pender for grades 8 and 9, and will have the ability to stay on Pender or move to GISS for grades 10-12.

“We’ve wrestled with the decision. We’ve wrestled with how to correct the situation the board finds itself in,” district superintendent Scott Benwell said before making his recommendation.

Benwell went on to characterize a dilemma of “right versus right,” where valid concerns about choice and access to programs came up against the board’s responsibility to balance the budget. The status quo configuration does not provide that opportunity, Benwell said.

The board also voted to designate a transition year for the first year of the new regime, so outer island students entering Grade 8 in 2021-22 can choose to stay on their home islands or attend school on Pender during that year. Grade 9 students from the outer islands will have the choice of attending school on Pender or GISS just for the transition year.

As part of the reconfiguration motion, students on the outer islands will be permitted to attend school on Salt Spring if they are registered in French Immersion or the Gulf Islands School of Performing Arts, or to access inclusive education services as required under an individual education plan.

The decision was opposed by Galiano Island school trustee Shelley Lawson and Mayne Island trustee Janelle Lawson, who had attempted an amendment that would have increased the transition period to two years.

Parent opposition to the plan was especially strong on Galiano. Shelley Lawson noted close to 300 community members had spoken out about the inequity they felt a mandatory Pender catchment area would produce for outer island students, and the sense of historic inequity for those island residents.

The District Parent Advisory Council also collected large amounts of negative feedback around the plan. A delegation from DPAC at Wednesday’s board meeting requested once again that the board take more time to consider options and wait until at least January before advancing a motion.

For more on this story, see the Nov. 25 issue of the Driftwood newspaper.

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