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Court blocks school closure in Comox

A community group won a court decision PDF file; Acrobat Reader required. blocking the board of education from closing Cape Lazo Middle School in the Comox School District.

The Comox Valley Citizens for Better Education Society was formed to oppose board decisions to reconfigure the district to eliminate middle schools and to close and sell Cape Lazo. When the board would not listen to their views, they hired well-known lawyer, Joe Arvay to challenge the board in court.

The case was instituted using the provisions for judicial review.  Under judicial review, the court has the scope to overturn a decision because proper process is not followed.  It cannot, however, review the merits of a public body’s decisions.

The judge who heard the case, Mr. Justice Johnston, said that the board had the authority to make its decision to reconfigure the district to eliminate middle schools and he would not overturn that decision.

On the other hand, he ordered that “the by-law closing Cape Lazlo is quashed.”

He ruled that the board had failed to provide procedural fairness. The board had made the decision to close the school—and to sell it to the Francophone school authority—before it had carried out the consultation with the community that is required.

Justice Johnston harshly condemned the actions of the board.  He said that “the breach [of procedural fairness] was serious, and those interested and affected by the decisions to close Cape Lazo were not only denied a fair opportunity to influence the closure decision, they were presented with a process that appeared to be a sham.”

Part of the reasoning in the court decision was based on a requirement in the Ministerial Order that a board’s by-law to close a school “must include a confirmation that the board will not require the property for future educational purposes.”

This section of the ministerial order may finally put an end to the mass closing of more than 170 schools since the current BC Liberal government came to power.  With the proposals to extend schools to full day Kindergarten and possibly to programs for three and four-year old children, no board could honestly be sure that it will not require school property for future educational purposes.

The Minister may finally have recognized this implication of the Throne Speech announcement of new early learning programs.  Sun reporter Janet Steffenhagen reported in her blog that she had heard a rumour that the ministry is going to announce a moratorium on school closures.

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