Langley Secondary School closure considered

Decision is ‘not a done deal’ says school district representative

Langley Secondary School

Langley Secondary School could close.

A notice of motion to consider closing Langley Secondary was passed by trustees at the Langley Board of Education meeting on Tuesday evening.

The notice of motion will be discussed again at the next board meeting, but it was essential to make it now, because it shows intent of a business plan to the ministry of education. But the notice of motion does not mean the closure of LSS is a done deal, said school district staff and trustees.

“My hope is that the message is clear that this is a policy piece we must follow, not a decision,” said Trustee Megan Dykeman, who brought forward the notice of motion.

“People get emotionally charged at the words school closure, but I can assure you the decision has not been made,” said Trustee David Tod.

Trustee Alison McVeigh said the motion will make many people feel anxious.

“I’ve been involved in school closures before. Consider this as one of several options. This is merely a technicality. I haven’t made up my mind yet,” said McVeigh.

The LSS closure possibility is intricately connected to getting funding for a new high school in Langley. LSS’s seismic upgrading is urgent and that is one of the reasons that prompted the school district to begin holding community consultations regarding the long-term facilities plan. The provincial government is committing $19 million for the seismic upgrades, but will put that money towards the building of a new school if LSS is torn down.

LSS is Langley’s oldest high school and requires around $20 million in upgrades to both its infrastructure and equipment like the boiler.

While top-notch athletic facilities sit beside it, including a covered area for sports like lacrosse and ball hockey, as well as McLeod Athletic Park, LSS has seen enrolment decline year after year.

The same is true at all other Langley secondary schools, except R.E. Mountain in Willoughby, which is badly overcrowded, and Walnut Grove, which has a stable high school population.

In the suggestions put forward to the public for feedback, closing LSS is one of them. If it was to close, students and staff would likely move to H.D. Stafford Middle School. A former full high school, it was converted to a middle school in a highly-controversial move that led to both political and school district personnel upheaval.

It would be turned into a Grades 9-12 school, with Simonds Elementary converted to a Grades 6-8 middle school.

Another option would be to move students to an expanded Brookswood Secondary. That option doesn’t have much support.

But in a meeting with 25 LSS students and eight staff including principal Dawn Tomlinson on Dec. 1, about the options on the table for their school, most indicated that they weren’t keen on going to Brookswood, and Stafford seemed the better option. Many didn’t want to lose the LSS culture, and value their relationships with their teachers.

Others commented that is was like going back in time. They were pushed to LSS when Stafford became a middle school, and now they might have to go back.

Staff worried about job security and commented on the history of the building. The trades wing of the building is newer and could be kept open and used as a trades school.

In order to close a school there are specific steps involved, as outlined in policy 5209, said secretary-treasurer David Green.

While no decision has been made as to which of the options will be pursued to address the seismic concerns at LSS, the options that include school closure would require a school closure consultation process as outlined in the policy. Green said it was crucial to start that process, which will be 60 days from Tuesday, to consult with the public on this.

“We consulted legal advice and they recommended we give formal notice of motion of the board’s intent to consider the potential closure of LSS. If we waited until January it would be too late,” Green said, explaining that the reason the district is moving so fast on the long-term facilities plan is because the provincial government puts together its budget in January for the fiscal year.

The ministry of education has said Langley must have a business plan ready to go, should funding for a new school becomes available. But even if the board agreed to close LSS, it would still take a few years to accomplish, said assistant superintendent Gord Stewart.

“No matter what we do, we aren’t going to make everyone happy,” he said.

“We all agree that we will make it work and we will do well by students,” said Suzanne Hoffman, superintendent of schools.

Other suggestions that came out of the public feedback included building a middle school or smaller high school on the LSS property.

The board has decided to hold an open house on Jan. 14, 2015 to update and show the options for Langley’s schools.

The board will then have to make some big decisions to make at its Jan. 27 meeting.

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