Trustees vote to reconfigure six rural schools in Abbotsford

Starting in September 2017, those schools will no longer house Grade 6 and 7 students

Parents are pictured after the Abbotsford board of education voted on Tuesday night to reconfigure six rural schools. Starting in September 2017

“Disgusting!” was the response from at least one parent on Tuesday evening after the board of education voted to reconfigure six rural elementary schools so that they no longer include Grade 6 and 7 students, starting in September 2017.

The decision was made at the board’s monthly public meeting, with all seven trustees voting in favour.

Approximately 75 parents attended the meeting, held at the Abbotsford Arts Centre’s community arts addition, with many shouting out comments or booing during the board’s discussion.

“Not one time did we get a chance to share our opinion with you. Not once!” yelled out one parent after the trustees voted.

The decision impacts students at Barrowtown, Upper Sumas, Aberdeen, Ross, Bradner and Mount Lehman elementaries – all of which currently house students from kindergarten to Grade 7.

All other Grade 6 and 7 students in the district already attend one of the district’s seven public middle schools for kids in Grades 6 to 8, and this is where the affected students will have to go if they remain in Abbotsford.

Several parents after the meeting said they were dismayed by the decision and will move their kids to K-7 schools outside of the district – such as North Otter elementary in Aldergrove – or to private schools.

They said they like the community feel of their rural schools, and that Grade 6 and 7 students contribute significantly to school life and help younger students, who look up to them.

Bradner elementary parents voiced concerns about what will happen to the school’s annual May Day celebrations, which are organized by parents and prominently featured Grade 6 and 7 students.

Marley Arden and Ashley Rempel, both in Grade 6 at Bradner, said they were disappointed with the decision.

“I kind of thought the school board is here for the kids so shouldn’t they listen to the kids?” Marley said.

Ashley said when she first heard of the proposal, she almost burst into tears.

“Why do they have to change it? Our school is fine.”

A staff report recommended reconfiguration to: standardize schools across the district, provide improved programming for students not currently attending a middle school, and create improved student transitions.

The months-long process leading up to the vote included letters sent to parents, three public consultation meetings and follow-up meetings at each of the affected schools.

Board chair Rhonda Pauls said the process was complicated, but she commended staff for their detailed research and her fellow trustees for their careful consideration of the data.

“I have complete confidence in the process we have conducted here. Our staff have gone above and beyond … This board has done its diligence,” she said.

Trustee Cindy Schafer said she empathized with parents, herself having gone through a change to middle school with two of her children a few years ago.

“Initially, I, too, had some reservations … I have to report that the middle school experience was a great experience for my kids,” she said.

The board also voted to realign the catchment area of Barrowtown and Upper Sumas schools to be part of the Abbotsford middle and secondary catchments, effective in September 2016.

Parents opposed to the change continue to post comments on the Facebook page “Save our K-7 Schools,” which has more than 400 members.