Province says Nanaimo-based Indigenous learning centres not at risk of closing amid community concerns
NANAIMO -- Parents and students from two Indigenous learning centres in Nanaimo are trying to save their schools from a feared closure, while the B.C. government says no closures are planned.
Leslie Payette, who has a child enrolled at one of the schools, has written a letter to the board chair and trustees of Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools (SD68) to keep the Nisaika Kum’tuks and Tsawalk Learning Centres open.
The centres were established in 2014 and 2016 to meet the needs of highly vulnerable and hard-to-engage Indigenous students on the Mid-Island. But parents say they were told they’d be closing amid a consolidation of the two learning centres from the Vancouver Island West School District (SD84) to SD68 at the end of the month.
“Tsawalk is my family. I don’t know where I would be without them,” says Payette. “I would barely be able to keep my job without their support and for Bobbi [her daughter] and her wellbeing.”
Payette says parents were never told that the transfer when it was initiated, and that they weren't given notice of the consolidation until June 1 when was already in process.
“We were told this is to be a seamless transition,” she says. “We are in a new location with potentially new learners and all new staff and support workers. So, as far as a seamless transition, it’s challenging.”
According to documents provided to CTV News, the shuffle stems back to summer 2018. A letter from then-Education Minister, Rob Fleming, to SD84’s board chair says a special advisor was being appointed to facilitate the transition of Nisaika Kum’tuks and Tsawalk educational programs from SD84 to SD68, which is the jurisdiction where the two centres are located.
Then a memorandum of understanding is eventually signed between SD84 and SD68 on May 28, 2020. It says pursuant to a ministerial order appointing a special advisor, the Nanaimo Board is to assume operation of the two learning programs in a way that “ensures long-term continuity” and a “seamless transition” for students – and that it occur as quickly as possible with consultation with community partners throughout.
While parents say they were told that there would be changes coming to the two learning centres, SD68 says the programs offered by the schools will stay the same under Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools – and that staff from the two centres will have a chance to keep their jobs through the collective agreement process.
In a statement on the transition, SD68 board chair Charlene McKay says: “Pursuant to the Ministerial Order, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools (NLPS) and SD84 are working collaboratively with partner groups, including Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre (NAC) and Mid-Island Metis Nation (MIMN), to transition the SD84 programs, located in Nanaimo, to NLPS.”
“We are aware that NAC and MIMN have applied for Independent School status and are in full support of that application,” said MacKay.
The Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre and Mid-Island Metis Nation say they hope to get B.C.’s first urban, Indigenous independent school running in 2022.
A GoFund Me campaign has topped $10,000 of its $1-million goal to set up the school. It would serve students K-12 with a curriculum that’s rooted in Indigenous teachings and culture.