‘I can’t believe they could do this’: Cowichan families devastated by cuts to Mill Bay School

'I can't believe they could do this': Cowichan families devastated by cuts to Mill Bay School

Christine Pelkey held her 10-year-old daughter Scarlett Monday, as the young girl sobbed over cuts to her Mill Bay Nature School.

“It’s been hard to watch her. To get here, and now to feel like it’s all being taken away,” Pelkey told CHEK News outside of Mill Bay Nature School Monday.

The K-7 nature based program has been operating out of a school on Cobble Hill Road for six years, with a focus on out-of-the-box outdoor learning, and keeping kids active.

“This has been a really safe landing for her. The school system failed her,” said Pelkey. “She’s heartbroken. This is the first year she’s made friends, that she has felt like she belongs.”

According to parents, their neuro-diverse children have thrived learning there, when nowhere else worked.

“Lots of parents with kids like ours, they (have) tried every other school in the district, and they didn’t fit in anywhere else and everyone fits in here and it’s been a real miracle for families like ours,” said Evan Jamieson, whose son attends Mill Bay Nature School.

Until April 2, when without consultation, the Cowichan School District announced it was cutting the school’s nature based programming to convert it into a primary school for the south Cowichan area.

“When I found out it was closing I got really sad,” said student Delilah Hachey.

Students say they want the school to stay open.

“I wish it could stay open forever so more people could come,” said student George Faickney.

Parents are upset that the district provided such a small amount of notice for the closure.

“A complete shock, and I can’t believe they could do this so fast,” said Erin Ward, whose eight-year-old son attends Mill Bay Nature School

Yet according to School District 79, Mill Bay Nature School has the lowest enrollment in the district. Ninety-one students are currently attending, and only 11 students are registered for Kindergarten this coming Fall.

“The south end of the school district of Cowichan Valley, Mill Bay, Cobble Hill, Shawnigan Lake is our fastest school aged population area. The other schools, George Bonner, Discovery and Bench are all full and at capacity so we’ve had to do a re-configuration because there is space in this building,” said Jeff Roland, asst. superintendent of communications for School District 79.

But parents aren’t giving up without a fight and are appealing the school board’s decision, because say their kids will fall through the cracks without Mill Bay Nature School.

“And we can’t find enough money? How can we not find enough money in our province to fund a school like this,” said Cammie Lockwood, a parent of two students attending Mill Bay Nature School.

Unless the decision is reversed, current students will all be moved to neighbouring schools by the 2025-2026 school year.

Parents have created an online petition to try and save program funding.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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