Protesters Outside Vancouver School Board Rally Against Budget Cuts, School Closures

“Education is our right. Fight, fight, fight!”

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Protesters raise a banner during a demonstration in front of the Vancouver School Board building, on June 30, 2016. (Kyrsten Downton / The Runner)

After dealing with recent funding shortfalls from the Ministry of Education, the Vancouver School Board held a meeting to finalize their new budget on June 30. They ultimately rejected the province’s budget proposal, and as a result, British Columbia’s minister of education ordered an audit of the school board.

A protest rally organized by the BC Student’s Alliance was held outside of the building during the budget deadline meeting. President of the BCSA organization, 17 year-old Dakota McGovern, argues that the voices of students and their families are getting lost in the battle between the Board and province.

“The B.C. government is trying to cut education and the Vancouver School Board is trying to save its system. Both of them claim to be representing students, which is ironic because they haven’t really confronted us about it,” says McGovern.

A protester at the rally, 27-year-old Sophie Raider, says that the lack of funds for education has become aggravating.

“I’m really frustrated with the way the province is treating its schools. There have been cuts and cuts and more cuts. We all know there’s a chronic underfunding of education in British Columbia. We need to stand up and show government that we don’t stand for it,” says Raider.

The VSB announced on June 20 that a preliminary list of 12 schools are being considered for closure. However, on the rally’s event page, the BCSA suggests that there could be between 19 and 21 school closures.

Due to the lack of funding, the Board cannot afford all of the updates the listed schools need, and the Ministry won’t step in to help because most of the schools don’t operate at an almost-full capacity.

“Operating at 95 per cent capacity is kind of an insane demand from the provincial government that has no basis in fact. I would like to see the Ministry acting evidence-based policies instead of pushing school boards into really tight corners,” says Raider.

Almost all of the schools facing possible closures are in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. McGovern argues that the effect on the community, specifically low-income and indigenous families, would be very significant if they were to close.

“It would make it more difficult for people that have built bonds with each other and have gotten a deep sense of identity to then disperse across various Vancouver schools into fractured communities, because then that sense of identity goes away,” says McGovern.

While the rally was not very large in size, the protesters and the BCSA hope that they were able to build more connections within the community.

“I think that having a place for people who all feel the same to come together and to network can only make the community stronger and benefit the movement,” says Raider.

McGovern also hopes that they sent a strong statement to include students’ voices in the Vancouver education battle, rather than having what he calls a “lopsided system.”

“Ultimately, our goal is to open up the bracket of what is viewed as possible within the government’s working. The only way you can change society is when you have a broad, populous list of options. If not, you have a very narrow direction.”

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