Dawson City may form its own school board if the Department of Education pushes through with its plans to enforce a longer, standard school year across the territory.
The idea has been floated as a possibility over the last month or two, said Sue Lancaster, chair of the school council for Robert Service School.
The community has also considered other options, like organizing a school-wide strike, but this is the only idea that seemed to make sense, said Lancaster.
If the school council converted to a school board, it would have the authority to set its own calendar.
Until now, the minister of education has sought advice from councils on the school calendar and approved the dates recommended by them.
But next year the department intends to have one common school calendar across all of the Yukon’s schools.
More than 20 years ago, Dawson developed its own calendar, ending the school year before June so that kids would not have to choose between school and work or other summer activities.
The new calendar “showed nothing but amazing things,” said Lancaster in an earlier interview. “The students were getting better marks, the students were attending classes and not skipping at the end of the year.”
But now Dawson has been told that it has to sync up with the rest of the schools in the territory, which will likely mean keeping kids in school well into June.
At meetings in December, education officials informed the councils of their decision to standardize the calendar. In addition, the school year would increase to 191 days, up from between 173 and 181 this year, depending on the school.
Councils were provided with seven options on the school calendar, and have until the end of the month to provide comments to the department.
Education Minister Scott Kent must set the calendar for the upcoming school year by the end of March.
There are provisions in the Education Act for a school council to become a school board.
The council would have to formally notify the department of their intention, and at least two community meetings would be held to inform residents of the consequences of the change.
Ultimately, the decision would come down to a vote by Dawsonites.
School boards are responsible not only setting the calendar, but hiring, firing, and directing financing.
It would be a big change and a lot of responsibility, said Lancaster. But the community might be ready for it.
“I think it might be something that they want to do. It has been talked about in the past, over the years.”
Dawson wants to have more input into their community affairs, she said. The school calendar controversy is just one example of the community feeling ignored.
In consultations last fall, Dawson selected “Father Judge Memorial Hospital” as the preferred name for the town’s new hospital, currently under construction. However, the community has recently been told that the institution will be called the “Dawson City Community Hospital.”
“There’s always that hesitation of, ‘It’s such a big job to do it.’ But I think with this plus the whole hospital naming thing that happened, it’s just another thing where Dawson is starting to feel like we’re not having any control over our community, and maybe it’s time to take a stand on something like that.”
The school council expects to hear back from the minister by the end of this week, said Lancaster. Once they hear from him, the community will start making decisions about their next move.
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