Trout Creek students Emily Jell

Trout Creek students Emily Jell

Parents and students rally to oppose school closures

Parents and students gathered on the front lawn of the School District 67 offices ahead of the official closure of two elementary schools.

At least 200 parents and students gathered on the front lawn of the School District 67 offices ahead of the official closure of two elementary schools.

School district officials were tasked with trimming just over $1 million from the budget, deciding earlier this month to close three schools including West Bench Elementary and Trout Creek Elementary.

Wednesday night trustees will make the closures official when the final reading of the school closure bylaw is considered.

Emma Wolff attended the rally with her two children who attend Trout Creek Elementary, a five year old daughter Olivia and a seven year old son Elias.

The school closure process has been a lengthy and uneasy one for Wolff since the district set out on balancing the budget last year.

“It’s been really frustrating, especially because Trout Creek came to the table so suddenly and we had so little time to prepare,” Wolff said.

She and her family moved to the Summerland a year ago from Germany

“It means three different schools in three years for my son,” Wolff said.

She hopes the rally will get the attention of the school board trustees, but wants to move forward without animosity.

“We want to offer them an out. We want to work with them, work together,” Wolff said.

Multiple people spoke at the rally, including young students who stated they loved the staff and school didn’t understand why it is closing.

Should the school close, Wolff’s kids will attend Giant’s Head Elementary, which she said will be at capacity.

“It will be full, if any children move to the community during the school year, there won’t be space to take them. That’s why we’re trying to pull together as a community, to oppose it as a community, not just save Trout Creek School, but save all of the schools. Save all of the students in Summerland from the magnitude of impact this decision is going to have,” Wolff said.

Doug Hutcheson spoke at the rally, noting the lack of elected officials.

“Any trustees here today? Raise your hand,” Hutcheson said, no one did. “Is Dan Ashton here? No. Christy Clark and Dan Ashton should be here, should be listening to these people, we all pay taxes, we fund these schools and they should be carried on for the safety of the children.”

Rick Hatch also spoke at the rally. He said the uncertainty of the months-long school closure process has been “heart-wrenching.” His young daughters started attending West Bench Elementary two years ago when he and his family moved to the area from Alberta.

“We moved to this city without knowing anyone, met all of our good friends through the school. It’s really the heart of our community and when you close a school like that you pull the heart out of a community,” Hatch said. “You’re going to see property values drop, you’re going to see young families stop moving to these areas and you’re going to see a slow decline of the neighbourhoods, Trout Creek and West Bench, if you close the schools.”

Hatch said there is still a mist of uncertainty, but his daughters will have to make the trip to Carmi should the school close.

“There’s talk of a lawsuit against the district, we just hope it doesn’t come to that. Our kids will go to the prescribed school which is Carmi,” Hatch said.

Having his children commute to Penticton is the exact opposite of Hatch’s intentions when he moved his family close to a school.

“We moved close to the school specifically so we could walk to the school and keep our kids healthy, keep them out of vehicles as much as possible,” Hatch said.

Many speakers at the rally questioned the numbers put forward by the school district, the use of 2011 census data and not approaching creative or public funding resources.