The Greater Victoria School District 61 says it hears and understands the intense shock of concern and disappointment from parents at Victor School.
It’s been an overwhelming few weeks for staff and trustees at SD61 since it announced in early January that it was cancelling late French immersion at Central Middle School. Then came its release of the boundary catchment review which has been met with controversy by the parents of Cloverdale Traditional and South Park Family elementary schools of choice and, the parents of medically and behaviourally challenged students at Victor School.
Victor School is designated for children who are medically assisted or have high-incidence behaviour, and who need additional supports for learning. The needs are so high, children from the medically assisted part of the school spend nights away from home in the care of nurses to relieve the parents. Some have had so many surgeries on their hearts they have do not resuscitate orders in case of heart failure because there’s nothing left to do. Others bite, thrash and punch when in the wrong situation.
But that’s the wrong light, says parent Marcus Pollard, father of Nathaniel.
“He’s awesome, he’s amazing, people see the wrong things.”
For many families the reaction has been one of stress and frustration, said Cathy Nash, mother of Victor School student Darwyn Danesh.
“We weren’t involved in any consultation process up to this point,” Nash said.
However, it’s still early and despite the shape of the proposal nothing is certain as of yet, said Jordan Watters, chair of the SD61 school board trustees.
“This is the consultation process to get into so we can have those conversations,” Watters said. “Recommendations have been put forward but no decisions have been made.”
Under the proposal, Victor School would become part of the Oak Bay High family of schools. This would alleviate pressures on nearby schools as the city’s core schools are at capacity and are projecting even greater numbers, part of a 10 year growth that will add 1,800 students to the SD61 population.
In the meantime, the well-prepared plan that Victor School become a regular stream elementary with its own catchment has put a scare into families who already deal with a lot, Nash said.
The stories go on. There’s Benecio LeRoux who was registered at Oak Bay High four years ago. When he showed up he wasn’t allowed in, said his mom Kathleen.
“My journey with my son in public school is fraught with stories like this. Victor School is the only school that has the support he needs.”
There’s Pollard and his son Nathaniel. Another teen who is non-verbal (Pollard has dreams that Nathaniel speaks and when he does, he tells him his favourite band is and it’s one so new and trendy Pollard has never heard of it), Nathaniel is able to learn in an environment at the SD61 Victor School that he otherwise wouldn’t.
“We’re only 17 families at Victoria so our physical voice is very small, we need the 10,000 families in Victoria to speak for us, this is a very important thing,” Pollard said.
As a result, Nash and her husband Roshan Danesh sought legal counsel from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, former B.C. Representative for Children and Youth 2006 to 2011.
“The students, including Darwyn, have severe mental and physical disabilities and attend Victor school because of the level of accommodation and support required for them to be in school and have their complex health needs addressed,” wrote Turpel-Lafond. “Planning to relocate these students to an ‘undisclosed location’ without clarity around the process to address and accommodate their rights, interests and complex needs is unacceptable.”
Watters said the board is aware families how important it is to the Victor families that they understand their future.
SD61 hosts open houses Feb. 13, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Lansdowne in the gym and Feb. 16, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the Victoria High Andrews gymnasium.