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Parents fighting to save unique Mill Bay school from returning to catchment pool

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Evan Jamieson’s nine-year-old son Oliver has thrived at Mill Bay Nature School in Mill Bay, B.C., despite all of his challenges.

“He has special needs, autism, ADHD and limited language capacity,” said Jamieson.

The school, which takes students from kindergarten to Grade 7, offers a unique learning environment based around inclusion, with a heavy emphasis on outdoor learning.

“It’s really been an unqualified success story for him,” said Jamieson.

As of next year, the school will begin a transition prompted by the Cowichan Valley School District, to be rolled back into the school catchment system.

“What we’re doing is over the next three years moving kindergarten to Grade 2 into the Mill Bay School and having George E. Bonner School, which is just down the road, a Grade 3 to 7 school,” said Jeff Rowan, assistant superintendent, communications and community relations for the district.

Rowan says the Mill Bay Area is experiencing the fastest growth in the entire district. Currently Mill Bay Nature School has an enrolment of roughly 90 students.

“It has a capacity of over 200,” said Rowan.

He says the district needs that under-utilized space as projections show all the schools in the Mill Bay Area will be at capacity within the next few years.

“For us personally, it’s been life-changing,” said Stewart Hachey, a parent of a student at Mill Bay Nature School.

“Their individual strengths have been valued,” said Jaime Blacklock, another parent of a student at the school.

For these parents, the potential loss of the school's unique way of teaching and inclusion has been nothing short of devastating.

“(The district) did not just create a program, they created a community that is now a family,” said Hina Charania, a parent at the school.

The parents now fear that family is being broken-up.

“This is a reconfiguration, this is not a school closure,” said Rowan.

The district says although some of the schools programming will change with the different grades coming in, a nature component to learning will stay.

“We’re fighting it in every way we can,” said Jamieson.

The school’s PAC hopes the district will reconsider the schools reconfiguration and has created a Change.org petition, including taking their concerns public.

“As soon as soon as I can stop doing media I’m reaching out the B.C. Supreme Court to start the process of filing for a judicial review on this decision,” said Jamieson.

He says the school needs to be saved in its current configuration.

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