Since 2002, more than 200 public schools in BC have been closed. This number of closures in such a narrow space of time is unprecedented in our province’s public school history.
The BCTF has compiled and made public a comprehensive accounting of school closures in BC school districts.
Driven by education underfunding and facing additional costs downloaded to school boards by the provincial government, school trustees are resorting to school closures to make cuts in school district budgets. Rather than asserting their districts’ needs with the provincial government, school trustees are cutting services and programs for students and closing neighbourhood schools.
Unfortunately, a focus on how to close schools has replaced the essential discussion of why close schools, with boards hiring outside consultants to develop reports, recommendations, and timelines on school closures. Often, a number of schools are announced as potential closures, leaving parents, teachers, students, and communities scrambling to make the case for why their school should remain open over other schools.
School closures leading to more school closures
Trustees will report that decisions about school closures are among the most difficult they have to make. The loss of a neighbourhood school to closure has a profound impact on children, parents, teachers, and communities.
Sometimes school trustees hope that closing a limited number of schools will lead to more stability and better prospects for the schools remaining in the district. Yet the experience in some areas of BC and elsewhere has proven that school closures can simply lead to more school closures. The loss of schools and the accompanying upheaval discourages existing families from staying and new families from moving to the area.
School District #27, Cariboo-Chilcotin, which closed a school in each of the years 2002–03, 2003–04, and 2004–05, closed five more schools at the end of June 2013. Currently, the district only has 23 schools, spread over a very large area with numerous small communities and significant geographical challenges. School District #43, Coquitlam, closed nine schools between 2004 and 2007. School District #20, Kootenay Columbia, closed 10 schools, totally nearly half of the schools serving Trail, Castlegar, Rossland, and Fruitvale.
During the “Harris years” schools and school districts in Ontario experienced defunding, destabilization, and privatization of public education very similar to that of BC over the past few years. This period in Ontario established a very disturbing trend in school closures. In 2005, People for Education reported that between 1999 and the 2005, 311 public schools were lost to closures in Ontario, with another 19 slated to close in 2006, bringing the total number of students affected to nearly 70,000.