Students and parents of a popular ski patroller program were distressed to learn it was discontinued last month.
The Vancouver Island School Ski Patroller (VISSP) program was a joint project between School District 69 (Qualicum), Mt. Washington Ski Patrol, Mt. Cain Society and North Island College. It required strong commitment (a minimum of 480 hours of course work), intense first-aid training, academic work and an advanced ski-snowboard skill set. It also enabled students to earn both secondary and post-secondary credits.
On Friday, Nov. 19, students and parents received an email from SD69 superintendent, Peter Jory, advising the program would be discontinued after the following weekend. In his letter, Jory stated the decision was not easy since the program filled a special education niche and provided countless opportunities that were appreciated by all participants.
The timing of the program’s discontinuation was a point of contention for many students and parents, as it demanded heavy involvement for the better part of a year, and where some students had to make life changes in order to participate.
Tim McGrady, a parent of a student in the program, said his child quit their summer job in order to participate in the pre-requisite Occupational First-Aid Level 3 training, which took two weeks to complete in August, and said students had already invested over 170 hours into training altogether.
“Aside from time being invested, many of these kids have made fairly significant decisions about their futures. Some have rearranged their course credits. In terms of graduation, some have even declined scholarships and chosen not to attend university.”
He said the main crux of the issue was the decision to discontinue the program in the middle of it, after students had already invested so much time.
“We as parents don’t quarrel with the right of the board to examine whether they want to continue supporting this course in the future… Our issue is that no notice (of the discontinuation) was given at all, with no kind of fair and due process,” he said.
According to McGrady, several parents and students have already reached out to MLA Adam Walker regarding their concerns, and their next step is to approach the Ministry of Education directly.
Jory’s letter went on to detail the program no longer reflected revised B.C. Ministry of Education curriculum and funding requirements, and the current participant roster consisted mostly of students from other school districts, students who had already graduated or repeat participants.
“It had come to my attention that a number of our practices around the program had migrated away from what would be deemed acceptable, in regard to ministry funding,” said Jory.
He said SD69’s funding model is predicated on the students in the school district, from kindergarten to Grade 12, working toward graduation in the current year.
“We had 12 kids in program, and currently only two satisfied those requirements,” he said.
Jory said the program was created with the intention of being solely for SD69 students, and at some point had been opened to allow for students outside the school district, which posed a funding challenge.
“If we follow the rules, and we are going to do our very best to do that, we would be significantly out of pocket to run this program.”
He said had he been aware of what the roster looked like and how the funding was being accessed, the program’s ‘plug’ would’ve been pulled earlier than November.