The Okanagan Similkameen School District provided a “lengthy process of strategic planning and consultation” before determining to close Osoyoos Secondary School in April, a response filed in BC Supreme Court May 31 asserts.
The response, crafted by Vancouver-based Harris and Company, comes in answer to a petition filed by the Town of Osoyoos and several community members on May 3 — less than a week after Trustees voted 4-3 to pass a bylaw closing the school — asking the Court to quash the School Board’s decision to close the school at the end of June.
It includes affidavits provided by Board Chair Marieze Tarr, Secretary Treasurer Lynda Minnabarriet and Director of Facilities Deb Sansome.
Specifically, the Town of Osoyoos petition asked the Court provide:
- An order pursuant to the Judicial Review Procedure Act, RSBC 1996, c. 241 that the decision, by motion of the Respondent on April 6, 2016, to close the Osoyoos Secondary School, be quashed;
- An order that the School Closure Bylaw 2016-01 regarding the Osoyoos Secondary School, passed by the Respondent on Apri1 27, 2016, be quashed;
- A series of injunctions delaying the closure of Osoyoos Secondary School for a period of not less than one year; and,
- Additional relief, including costs for the application.
The School District’s response indicates it opposes all relief requested by the Petitioners.
Rather, it attempts to establish a lengthy timeline of consultation that begins in 2009 with the creation of a long-term facilities plan by Victoria-based Matrix Planning Associates and continues through several iterations of Town of Osoyoos government, culminating in conversation with Mayor Sue McKortoff in December 2015.
The response specifically indicates that Board Chair Marieze Tarr, on December 2, 2015, informed Mayor McKortoff that the Board was ”updating the 2010 Facilities Plan” and “that it was possible that the update would include recommended school closures.”
Mayor McKortoff said this morning she has “no recollection” of that conversation.
“I do not recall her having a meeting with me. I certainly do not have a piece of paper that says anything about that, so I’m not sure where that’s coming from,” she said.
“I was even at Linda Larsen’s office with Mike Bernier and all the school boards on the seventh of December . . . there was nothing mentioned then.”
It response further paints some of the response provided at public consultations in Osoyoos on February 9 and March 8 as “rude,” attacking the “character of members of the Board or District Staff” or “threatening in their tone or content.”
“Despite the inappropriateness of a number of the comments, the Board attempted to maintain a neutral expression as not to create the appearance of bias either in favour of, or against, either of the January 13, 2016 motions,” the response states.
“[Trustees] did not respond to the comments that were made because the Board’s responsibility was to listen and consider what was being said, rather than to respond to each comment.”
The response asserts that at “no point prior to April 6, 2016 did the Board adopt or approve any of the recommendations in the 2015 Facilities Plan.”
It further provides response to the Petition’s claims, including:
- Disputing the claim that Osoyoos is the largest B.C. community without a secondary school;
- Stating bus travel time between Osoyoos and Oliver is similar to the travel time of other students in the School District;
- Asserting the timeline for the school closing process was “more than sufficient;”
- Challenging the Petition’s assertion that the Board “approved” the recommendations of the 2015 Facilities Plan at the December 9, 2015 in-camera meeting; and,
- Challenging Osoyoos demographic information and an assertion that it was the Board’s responsibility to provide translation services for the Indo-Canadian community.
“In summary, there is no merit to any of the Petitioners’ submissions concerning the adequacy of the Board’s consultation process,” the response concludes.
It then details “dire financial and academic consequences” if the orders ought in the petition are granted. That includes to “somehow locate $387,000 elsewhere in its 2016-17 fiscal budget.”
It also asserts reversing the Board’s decision would be difficult for students, many of whom “are excited by the new academic and social opportunities.”
“[I]f the Petitioners’ Orders are granted, the Board would need to issue layoff notices to many teachers to reduce its operating deficit,” the response states. “The students would thus, not only be confronted with having to adjust to another major change, but would experience a dramatic change in their teacher makeup and course offerings.”
The response also attempts to denigrate affidavits provided by the Petitioners, especially by parent petitioners, as hearsay and inadmissible.
The response also paints South Okanagan Secondary School as a modern facility equipped to house up to 700 students and, conversely, Osoyoos Secondary as a facility in poor shape, requiring “mechanical, electrical, structural and plumbing upgrades.”
B.C.’s Supreme Court has jurisdiction to provide a judicial review of administrative action undertaken in the province. It has the authority to overturn any decision that it determines is arbitrary, biased, or unreasonable.
It is not known if a date is set for hearing the petition and its response.