School district faces backlash over plan to move Grade 7s

Parents say there should have been more consultation by the Coast Mountains School District over a plan to move Grade 7s to high school.

The Coast Mountains School District (CMSD) is facing community backlash to a plan to move Hazelton area Grade 7 students into high school in September 2015.

Discussions about transferring the region’s Grade 7s to the Hazelton Secondary School have been underway for about three years as part of a restructure aimed at improving graduation rates.

The district’s goal is to put students in an age-specific learning environment.

It also wants to transition students to high school before they reach the eighth grade, when it says they are more likely to start thinking about dropping out.

CMSD board chair Art Erasmus said the district had received positive feedback about changes to the grade systems in Kitimat and Terrace two years ago.

“The feedback that we’re getting from both of those programs over the two years we have is that the kids, the parents and the teachers are happy in that configuration in working with each other and looking forward to going to school, moving on to the next grade and just feeling good about going to school,” he said.

In October last year, the district created the Hazelton Grade Reconfiguration Committee to investigate the best model for grade changes in the Hazelton region.

Teachers and representatives from school Parent Advisory Committees (PACs) are among those on the committee, which was formed by invitation.

But communities in the Hazeltons are yet to accept the reconfiguration.

At the committee’s third meeting on Jan. 26, frustrations were aired over a perceived lack of consultation in the lead up to the move.

Some committee members said the school district should have consulted them before it approved the plan.

Among them was Andrea Vickers, who represents the Majagaleehl Gali Aks Elementary School PAC on the reconfiguration committee.

She said she accepted an invitation to join the committee believing its purpose was to investigate the value of the changes, not to implement it.

“The bottom line is that they want to increase graduation rates and increase the literacy and the numeracy and increase the academic level which all of us would love to see, of course we’re not putting that down,” she said.

“There are other ways of dealing with that and handling it and if you want us on board for this, if it’s adamant that this has to go on, there there has to be public consultation.”

Vickers said teachers were among those voicing opposition to the plan at last week’s meeting.

Her daughter, who is in Grade 6, would be among the first cohort to attend HSS in Grade 7.

She believes forcing younger children to travel long distances to school, such as Gitanyow students whose bus trip to HSS takes one and a half hours each way, would be detrimental to attendance.

“It’s getting them up at 6:30 a.m. or whatever to get them out the door,” she said.

“Now we’re asking Grade [7] kids from that community to do the same which understandably [parents] don’t want to see happen.”

New Hazelton Elementary PAC vice-chair Cynthia Joseph, who is also on the reconfiguration committee, said her PAC is opposed to the concept.

She said she was also unaware that the plan was being implemented until the committee’s first meeting in December.

“We object to … first the lack of process undertaken by the school district, specifically lack of consultation with all of the affected communities,” she said.

“And we reject the proposition that such a move will serve to better the educational outcome of children in the Hazeltons.”

She believes 12-year-old children will be vulnerable in a school setting shared with older students.

“There’s no separation available within the HSS to accommodate 12-year-olds being mixed in with Grade 12s, potentially 18-year-olds,” Joseph said.

“We believe 12-year-olds, Grade 7s, are not physically, psychologically, emotionally or mentally able to be within that environment at that age.”

Feedback from the reconfiguration committee, such as that from Joseph and Vickers, will be presented to the district school board at its next meeting on Feb. 18.

Vickers said she expected the committee chair to request more consultation and to recommend changing the slated Sept. 15 start date.

Erasmus said it was understandable people had concerns but he had been surprised by the level of frustration raised at the meeting.

He said the board would consider how to respond at its next meeting.

“We’re going to have to talk about that some more, in terms of what really is consultation, because we want to do something where people are going to say ‘yeah, this is worth trying if it gets more kids to graduation’,” he said.