School board promises to address Discovery turmoil

School board Trustee Mike McKay (centre), treasurer Bob Harper and superintendent Joe Rhodes talk as parents demand board action Wednesday to solve a conflict at Discovery Elementary School. - Peter W. Rusland
School board Trustee Mike McKay (centre), treasurer Bob Harper and superintendent Joe Rhodes talk as parents demand board action Wednesday to solve a conflict at Discovery Elementary School.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Solving a bitter turmoil — allegedly sparked by one local family — inside Discovery Elementary School, is now priority-one among school district staff.

Board trustee Mike McKay assured angry parents at Wednesday’s board meeting a report about Discovery’s long-standing fracas is due as soon as possible.

The news came after several dozen families and supporters rallied outside SD79’s Beverly Street headquarters prior to the meeting. Later, inside, the group told the board the Shawnigan Lake school is being held hostage by the family’s repeated claims of religious discrimination.

According to the group, those accusations are unfounded and the situation has several parents, students and staff walking on eggshells.

McKay said a “multi-layered” solution to the the complex case is coming. But frustrated parents said they’ve waited years for board action about the conflict that allegedly moved from Ecole Cobble Hill to Discovery with the family’s children.

Darcie Williams said teachers have been harassed and classes disrupted by a parent accusing staff and others of discrimination. She claimed Discovery students are witnessing actions that contradict what kids are taught about rejecting bullying.

“It’s disgusting this has happened in a school,” she said.

“Multiple teachers have been reduced to tears in front of students,” Karen Silva added.

Central among parent concerns is a feeling the school district is enabling the situation instead of addressing it and, in the process, leaving its staff without the support they need and deserve.

“The general consensus,” parent Adam Lossing told the board, “is that nothing (leadership, solutions) comes from the school district.”

McKay repeatedly pointed to policies and protocols about dealing with these types of situations and allegations. He didn’t answer upset parent Shawn Silva’s demand to read passages about such in-school conflicts from a policy handbook.

Silva suggested police may need to be called to prevent parent disruption of the school, charging the board with hiding behind lawyers.

He later apologized for his outburst, but expressed concern about safeguards being in place to prevent this situation from developing in other schools.

“We’re significantly constrained as to what we can say,” McKay explained, citing privacy rules. “Staff will continue to engage with the parties to get agreement on the facts.”

A hired mediator also tried to settle concerns raised between the family and school officials. McKay declined to state how much his cash-strapped board has spent on those talks.

The protestors declined to identify the family in question. The News Leader Pictorial is interested in telling their story, should they wish to share it.

Parent demands for counselling for upset kids who have been “left foundering” by the situation was acknowledged by a concerned McKay.

He declined to give the report a precise time frame, indicating it would be written in the next few months.

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