Trying to save Westgate Spanish

Way back in 2012, the Calgary Board of Education asked the parents of Westgate School what they thought of the CBE’s plan to try and alleviate the overpopulation problem. We were engaged, we went to many meetings, and then we waited. A lot. And, heaven help us, we told them to make up their minds.

A week ago today, they told us. And we didn’t like the answer. Not remotely. It wasn’t worst-case — it was worse than that: it was an option never previously hinted at, and while it did address some of the things that the parents had been asked for, it was wrapped up in a big ribbon of stink. In short, the Westgate Spanish program was going to be taken away.

I suppose this is a lesson in “be careful what you wish for”.

Short version: The CBE decided that all four (remaining) Spanish grades would be pulled from the school and bussed 14 kilometres away to another, currently empty, school. Across the Glenmore Trail causeway. During rush hour(s).

Once the “WTF” moment had passed, anger started to set in. Not so much because of the distance, but because of the betrayal. Never had the CBE even mentioned the existence of the new school (Eugene Coste Elementary), or hinting that students could be bussed such a distance away from where most students lived.

Right now, most students at Westgate School are bussed in, from west of the school. “Well, what’s the problem, if they’re already being bussed?” you ask. And it’s a good question. The point isn’t so much that they’re being bussed, it’s the distance. Some kids would be spending over two hours on the bus every day, the equivalent of over 60 instructional days. There’s no world where that makes sense, in an urban centre, where there are other schools that should be available.

Oh, and then there’s the other question that I’ve heard some of you say: “Why Spanish? They should take French, which is our other official language!” Sure, it’s an optional program, no-one’s making them take it. The same goes with the French program. Oh, and that French program? That’s Parisian French. You just try using that in Quebec and see how far you get. In Canada, we do not teach Quebecois as a language outside of Quebec.

So now I’m spending far too much time trying to help a group get the CBE back into a conversation. Short version: we don’t like the presented “solution”, because it affects the students and their families far too much. It violates several of the CBE policies and principles, and even from a moral standpoint: who thought with honest truth that putting a kid on a bus that long inside city limits was the right solution?

I have no idea where this is going to end, yet. Right now, we’re amassing parents into a group. We’re hearing rumours from many angles, and all of them have grains of truth, and equally need grains of salt. It’s hard to tell who’s friend, and who’s just a “silent observer” (dear elected school trustees, we’re looking in your direction). The only ones truly helping us are those with the passion to not take this lying down.

So, yeah, loss of sleep, more stress (nosebleeds, to boot!), and I’ve had to apologise to my boss for not doing enough work, lately.

What do we want? A reasonable option that doesn’t involve long-distance bussing. I think it’s possible. The question is if everyone else does, too.

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