The Southeast Kootenay Board of Education is taking aim at the provincial government over a tight window to submit feedback for a rural education strategy review process.
The Board recently sent a letter to Linda Larson, the Parliamentary Secretary Rural Education answering questions about rural education policy and posing a few of their own in response.
Feedback for the province’s Rural Education Strategy closed on Jan. 9, which will be followed by the opportunity for additional public input.
The letter, written by SD5 board chair Frank Lento, answered questions such as defining rural and remote schools and districts, positive impacts in communities with rural and remote education, how schools are being used and sharing anecdotes about rural education.
Lento submitted questions on behalf of the board as well, including what the purpose of the Rural Education Strategy is, why there was only a two-month window to submit feedback with Christmas holidays right in the middle and why there weren’t any questions on rural education challenges.
SD5 includes schools in Cranbrook and south country communities including Wardner, Jaffray, Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford.
Lento identified a Statsitics Canada definition as being rural communities with 1,000 – 9,999, however couldn’t find a universal definition for remote communities.
“Our board has been defined as both a rural and urban school district,” Lento wrote. “However, we believe it is not the definition, as determined by population or distances to major urban centres, but the factors of accessibility that is important when discussing rural education.
Accessibility in the context of rural and remote communities include recruitment and retention of staff, access to technology, access to special needs supports, availability of extra curricular activities, access to trades training, aboriginal education resources and employment, Lento wrote.
School buildings carry particular importance in rural and remote communities, he continued.
“Typically, schools are utilized by all segments of a rural/remote community as a gathering place or meeting hall for clubs, organizations, self-help groups, etc, as a recreational and extracurricular facility for sports, arts, lectures, and higher learning initiatives and as a library,” wrote Lento. “Rural/remote schools are often the only ‘government presence’ left in remote communities and the only shelter large enough to house it’s citizens in emergency situations for both rural and remote communities.”
Lento expressed concern about SD5’s past history of amalgamation and closure of schools, adding that those fears are beginning to resurface again.
“Past school closures in our District and the vast number of school closures that have, and continue to take place across the province since 2002, continue to perpetuate a high level of anxiety and fear that school closures in their communities may happen in the future,” Lento wrote. “This ongoing anxiety, and the exponential increase, by percentage, of funding to private schools, continues to foster diminishing faith in the provincial government’s commitment to public education in general, and rural/remote schools in particular.”
Lento concluded SD5 feedback by asking a few questions on behalf of the board with an eye on challenges that included rural broadband access, teacher recruitment for specialty subjects and electives, and school replacement.