The Town of Osoyoos is not looking kindly on recent advice from the provincial minister of education to take school closing concerns back to the district’s board of trustees.

After Town Council last week received a letter from Minister Mike Bernier that suggested Town Council raise its “questions about the consultation process directly with the board,” Mayor Sue McKortoff responded with a suggestion of her own:

Don’t sign the school closing order “until there is an independent third party review that ensures procedural fairness has occurred and the ‘letter and the spirit of the BC School Act’ is being achieved.”

The exchange of letters comes in the wake of an Okanagan Similkameen School District decision to close Osoyoos Secondary at the end of June and bus students to South Okanagan Secondary School in Oliver next fall.

Council had asked the minister to take a close look at the process undertaken by the Board as it made its decision. It emphasized that request in a second letter sent back to the minister Wednesday.

“Your suggestion to ‘raise your questions about the consultation process directly with the Board,’ will be of no benefit in this situation,” the letter reads.

“The Board’s concept of holding two public meetings to meet the ‘letter of the law’ of the SD#53 School Closure Policy is central to [the] problem, in that solutions presented in the consultation process were ignored, dismissed without appropriate assessment and not debated publicly.”

The letter then includes six concerns the Town of Osoyoos has with the board’s decision, including:

  • The brevity of the school closing process and the impact the protracted time period has had on the Board’s capacity to thoroughly address “all elements of their SD#53 Closure Policy with the affected public and appropriately assessing public recommendations.

“This core service is being ripped out of our community for a paltry saving of approximately $245,622,” the letter contends.

  • The lack of Board response to “meaningful suggestions” made at consultation meetings that drew 1,000 and 800 people respectively and a general indication from those attending that “Osoyoos residents were very happy with the quality of education their children were receiving at OSS.”

“None of these suggestions appear to be seriously considered or implemented, which calls into question the “fairness” of the consultation process.

  • The inability of Indo-Canadian parents to adequately become involved in the consultation process due to language barriers.

“The Board didn’t accommodate their language needs in the consultation process; therefore, many parents didn’t understand the proceeding or the consequences.”

  • A contention savings expected with the Osoyoos Secondary closing were overestimated.
  • The Board’s initiation of administrative procedures to orientate and register OSS students in SOSS commencing prior to approval of third reading of the bylaw, which the Town suggests “calls into question the Board’s commitment to legal due process and procedural fairness.”
  • A refusal by the Board to consider Council’s offer of financial assistance in an amount over and above the Board’s savings gained through closing OSS.

The letter also appears to defend the legal challenge it is mounting against the school district as well as its encouragement of an independent school process born in the community.

“The decision by Council to challenge the Board is not taken lightly or with frivolous or vindictive motivations,” it reads.

“Council is supporting a successful and viable school program that has the support of its constituents.

“Council sees this decision to close OSS to be ill-timed and short-sighted as we prepare for the anticipated relocation of new residents that will result due to the opening of the new South Okanagan Correctional Center. The Board’s decision has already placed Osoyoos at a distinct disadvantage to offer potential new residents with the lifestyle and services that they were looking for when moving to our community.”

Meanwhile, online feedback on Council’s challenge to the school closing decision in court appears to suggest the Town has the support of Osoyoos residents.

“They said they would do it and they did! Kudos to the town of Osoyoos! Take that Trustees!,” one reader writes.

Another adds, “WAY TO GO!! This town council and residents r so awesome. Once again I am proud to say I live in the little town that roars loudly!!”

“Go Town of Osoyoos! There has to be some justice along the way,” adds a third.

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