Denman students, parents upset about staff turnover at school

A group of about 60 concerned Denman Island community members protested outside the community's elementary school Thursday.

A group of about 60 concerned Denman Island community members protested outside the community’s elementary school Thursday.

Although the school remained open for the day, only four of the school’s 34 students were in class, according to protest attendee Carissa Cross, whose two children attend the school.

Her concerns are about staff turnover at the school this year, as well as the way information about staffing changes has been communicated to students and parents.

“There’s been tons of questions and no answers,” says Cross. “The issue is not only that all of the teachers have left as well as the teacher’s aide, but also the way that they’re handling the information.”

Parent Katarina Meglic adds the mid-year staffing changes have been hard on many of the students.

“I think that what has been happening with the drastic changes in the school has been very upsetting for a lot of the children,” she says. “I think that all the methods that we have tried to use to obtain some understanding of the reasons for these changes have been unsuccessful. I know that many of the letters that I have written and many of the inquiries that I have made have gone unanswered.

“I think that it was really important for us as a community to show that this is unacceptable, the shutdown of information altogether has been unacceptable.”

According to parents, four staff who were at the school in September are not there anymore — including the school’s two full-time teachers, one of whom had taught at there for more than 20 years. Some parents say they found out the first two staff were leaving when their children got off the school bus crying.

My son “did come home crying on the school bus,” says Cross. “It was not presented to parents at all; all the children were taken aside in the library at the end of the day, they made the announcement, the teachers cried over what happened and all the students left crying.”

Meglic says staffing changes have all happened within the past three months, and parents want an explanation.

Comox Valley School District superintendent Sherry Elwood says she cannot legally comment on the staffing changes.

“We are unable to share any information on personnel matters,” Elwood says. “Any working person must be able to expect privacy and confidentiality in matters that connect to employment. We continue to be unable to respond to the parents on Denman for discussions about individual personnel.”

Although she can’t speak specifically about Denman, she says staff can leave during the school year for a variety of reasons, such as personal leave, educational leave, medical leave or secondment (take another job in the district).

Elwood acknowledges there have been communication issues, and says she met with the Denman Parent Advisory Council last Wednesday to discuss concerns about communication between staff, the district and parents.

She says the district committed to provide leadership and resources to a school planning council, or similar structure, “which would create increased opportunities for collaboration for parents, staff and the district.”

PAC co-chair Keith Porteous says the PAC is pleased with how the meeting went, noting he felt PAC concerns were heard by the district.

“We believe that Sherry Elwood and her staff have acted in good faith and everyone is mindful that the followup work will be key in moving all of us forward in support of a healthy learning environment for Denman Island Community School children,” says Porteous.

“This is an important first step in strengthening our relationship and a commitment to collaborate with the school community. The Denman Parent Advisory Council is committed to seeing that these commitments are honoured and we have reason to believe that positive changes will be forthcoming.”