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March 2, 2009

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Catholic schools closing for Winter Olympics

Also See:
`A model of patience in suffering'

By Laureen McMahon

Catholic schools will be closed for two weeks next February during the Vancouver-Whistler Winter 2010 Olympic Games, the superintendent of Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese has announced.

Laureen McMahon / The B.C. Catholic
St. Joseph the Worker students take a break from class to visit the new Richmond Olympic Oval skating rink. Next year they'll have an extended break as Catholic schools close during the 2010 Winter Olympics. From top to bottom are sisters Rachel, Abigail, and Gabrielle Lee and brothers Gavin, Owen, and Aidan Lunny.

However, students will not miss any classes in the 2009-10 school year, Doug Lauson noted.

"With Labour Day later than usual this year, the normal first day of school would be Sept. 8," Lauson explained, but "we plan to open all schools for teachers, both secondary and elementary, one week early next September."

"We will officially begin the school year on Wednesday, Sept. 2, instead," Lauson said, and use the week for the Faith Development professional day and to professional development for teachers, focussing on assessment and evaluation training.

"Effectively, all that we have done is to move the professional days that would have occurred during the school year into the first week, thereby creating additional instructional days for students to make up for an extra week of closure."

To make up for the other week of closure, Lauson explained, the CISVA 2010 spring break week which normally takes place in March will be scheduled earlier than usual to coincide with the second week of the Olympics in February.

The new schedule will be a win-win for both students and teachers, Lauson predicted, because students will be able to experience the Olympics with their families, either on TV at home, or at a venue if they have tickets. With schools closed, teachers are free to volunteer at events and many, he said, have expressed interest in being part of the once-in-a-lifetime Olympic experience.

"Everyone will benefit another way," said Lauson. "Students in Catholic schools often travel long distances to get to school and depend on busses or cars for transport. With schools closed during the Olympics, neither parents, students, nor teachers will have to fight the increased volume of traffic, road closures, and detours which are a usual consequence of the games."

Lauson also said that the Catholic Educators Conference which usually takes place at Canada Place Trade and Convention Centre each February will be rescheduled to April 22 and 23. A province-wide conference hosted by the five Catholic dioceses will take place in Kelowna.

"It was impossible for us to secure our usual conference dates in the middle of the Olympic event. Consequently, all the dioceses concluded that a joint conference in Kelowna later in the year would be a good alternative."

The announcement of the intention of Vancouver school trustees to keep public schools open during the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games is upsetting many secondary school teachers, according to Anne Guthrie Warman, president of the Secondary Teachers' Association.

"They haven't listened to our concerns about staffing." These concerns, she said, "are the concerns of the secondary administrators as well, and of the human resources department. We're all saying the same thing; this is going to be very difficult. It won't be business as usual."

Teachers are very concerned about the projected increase in travelling time to get to their schools, added Warman. Thirty-five per cent of secondary teachers live outside Vancouver, she explained.

Moving the public school spring break next year to coincide with the games, closing the secondary schools, and making up lost instruction time would be preferable to keeping the schools open, said Warman.

The trustees voted to meet with Metro-area school districts, TransLink, the Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Organizing Committee, the city, and the provincial government to discuss the development of a transportation strategy to enable teachers and students to get to school during the games.

Warman has called any expectation that the transportation problems can be easily solved "naive."

Glen Hansman, president of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers' Association, told The B.C. Catholic that members voted last October to keep the elementary schools open during the Winter Olympics, and that decision remains in effect.


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