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COMMENTARY · 28th December 2010
Walter McFarlane
On Wednesday, December 8th, the School Board met to determining the fate of Roy Wilcox Elementary School, Thornhill Jr. Secondary and the middle school concept the Board has been consulting on since the end of October.

All three plans are bad ideas. School closures are counterproductive and add insult to injury in the wake of Eurocan’s Closure in Kitimat. So far no good reason has been given for the closure other than savings to the budget. Even then, what can be saved for moving students to a new school is an unknown factor as what will take place still needs to be hammered out.

First and foremost, Roy Wilcox is the school of choice in Kitimat. This means the highest number of students will be moving to a new school, not the lowest. The topic of bussing has been brought up. From where is that money going to magically appear?

During the snowiest school closure meeting, the trustees were challenged to walk in the snow from Roy Wilcox to Nechako with heavy packs on their backs. Most of the Trustees and School Board personalities were from out of town and there was not a single car left stuck in the Roy Wilcox parking lot after the meeting.

Starting at three, last Saturday afternoon, I walked from Nechako to Roy Wilcox along an optimal route from the Baxter Apartments to Nechako and again along what I thought to be a less optimal route. It took me 25 minutes to get from Nechako to Roy Wilcox and 35 minutes from the apartments to Nechako. I’m an adult.

As I neared Nechako, a friend asked if they could give me a lift. I told them what I was doing. They replied: “Jesus Christ! Are you crazy?” If it’s crazy for me to do such a thing, how crazy is it to ask a child to walk from Roy Wilcox to Nechako.

But my 25 minutes from parking lot to parking lot have little bearing on the situation. Like I said, I’m an adult.

Upon finishing the trek I spoke to a parent who told me her child already walks from school to school every day. It takes him around 50 minutes to get from school to school. That is unacceptable.

This says nothing however of the walk from Thornhill to Terrace the school board decided upon as well. But fret not parents. Busses have been promised but are still being decided upon.

I can speak from personal experience that the school bus is not a healthy place for a child. When I was in elementary school, I took the bus from Cablecar to Nechako every morning and home from school every afternoon.

It’s the job of the bus driver to watch the roads, not baby-sit the children. A child cannot walk away from a bully when they are boxed in against the window seat. Besides, where can they move to if the bus is packed? The Aisle? Of course, the school which is being closed has the highest student population. The more students that get crammed onto the bus, the worse things get.

The last straw for me on the big yellow bus was when someone threw a steel toed boat across the bus and nailed me in the back of the head. This was unintentional but a game of ‘Throw the Shoe’, which had broken out at the back of the bus. I refused to get on it ever again.

Shall I point out that a child who misses the bus has a 25-50 minute walk ahead of them? Should I ask if busses will be provided for after school and before school activities or will the Roy Wilcox kids find themselves walking home as punishment for participating in school activities?

Closing a school in Kitimat or Thornhill creates third class citizens out of populations already hit by closures of industries. Maybe it’s because the people chose to live in the places they did so it‘s their fault. SCHOOL CLOSURES ARE NOT THE ANSWER.

On the topic of the reconfiguration; again the idea of the magical money that appears from nowhere is ludicrous at best. Mount Elizabeth has needed serious renovations for many years and they have not received it. Who says this time will be different? Especially with other districts struggling to make ends meet.

What are the answers then? Do not close the schools! Do not fix the system if it is not broken! Rather than looking at temporary solutions to budget problems, the School Board, Mayor and Council and community Should build a youth task force together to try and draw young families, university and collage graduates to the communities rather than stabbing these communities in the heart.

A study on this potential task force can be found at the Illinois Institute for Public affairs website written by Will Anderson, a Professor at the University of Wisconsin: here

If the school board is so desperate as to close a school, maybe they should reconsider and convert Roy Wilcox Elementary into the new middle school rather then jump the gun and close it all together.