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Sicamous-area school district faces tough questions after smell closes school

Watch: Malakwa parents had tough questions for the head of the North Okanagan – Shuswap School District on Monday night. Their children are facing long commutes after their normal school was closed by a bad smell late last week.

Parents in the Sicamous area had some tough questions for school administrators at a public meeting on Monday night.

They were gathered to discuss the indefinite closure of their local elementary school, Parkview Elementary, which was shut down late last week due to a mysterious bad smell and related health complaints.

Starting on Wednesday, kids will be transported to other schools.

READ MORE: Concerns raised in Sicamous over school’s sudden closure because of unexplained odour

However, some parents aren’t happy with the school district’s contingency plan and would like to see a previously-shuttered local school reopened to accommodate kids from Parkview in order to prevent them from having to take lengthy bus rides to Salmon Arm.

WATCH: (Sept. 21) Sicamous school closed due to a bad odour
Sicamous School Closed
Sicamous School Closed

The plan currently being implemented will see the youngest students from Parkview moved to nearby Eagle River Secondary and five other classes, with students in Grades 2 to 6, bused to North and South Canoe schools in the Salmon Arm area (those schools are 23 km and 30 km from Parkview).

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“It sucks. It sucks for everybody and from what I can tell, the school board is doing all they can do,” said parent Mike Dupuis, after the meeting.

Parents call for Malakwa school to be reopened

However, for kids from the rural Malakwa area, the new arrangements will more than double the distance they have to commute.

READ MORE: Elementary school in Sicamous closed because of unpleasant, musty odour: school district

Parents see the lengthy bus rides their kids will have to take from Malakwa to Canoe as not only a time waster, but a safety concern.

“We don’t want to see the children ride on the bus for two hours each direction. It’s a long time for little kids and in the winter time it is definitely not the most ideal conditions,” said community member Carl Kuster.

Malakwa parents pressed official on why they don’t simply reopen a closed school in Malakwa and accommodate some Parkview students there.

However, the school district believes the former school building in Malakwa needs too much work.

“If we were going to use that space, it was going to take approximately two weeks to get it clean enough,” school district superintendent Peter Jory told the crowd.

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However, a member of the public pressed Jory on whether opening the Malakwa school is more of an option than the school district is willing to admit. She wondered if officials were concerned about setting a precedent and having to keep the Malakwa school open long term if it was reopened temporarily to accommodate Parkview students.

However, Jory denied that was the case.

“Here is the truth of the matter, my honest truth: I’ve been kind about Malakwa school,” Jory told Malakwa residents when he met with them separately after the main meeting.

“It’s a long way, a long way from being able to be a school again. I don’t think it is viable.”

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However, a parent who work in the former Malakwa school building, now used to provide post office and library services, said she is familiar with the same and thinks it would be a viable option.

Others wondered if space could be found for students in other buildings in Sicamous or in schools in Revelstoke, which is closer but in a different school district.

After getting an earful from parents, the superintendent said the school district will be doing more research on the possibility of hosting classes in the Malakwa school, but Jory said it’s unlikely that building can be used.

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“We need to understand whether we are even going to be able to get it to pass code,” Jory said.

Jory also committed to meeting with Malakwa parents in a couple weeks to update them on the situation.

Length of Parkview closure unclear

As for the bigger question of when Parkview might reopen, the school district said that will depend on test results that are expected back in the coming days and weeks.

Jory said the best case scenario is that the tests — of samples from Parkview’s walls — will point to a specific cause and students will be able to return to Parkview in a month.

READ MORE: Sicamous parents invited to info session following elementary closure

However, if the tests don’t provide clear answers, it’s anyone’s guess how long the school could stay closed.

“It could drag out for quite a while if we don’t get something specific back from those tests,” Jory said.

Other testing has already ruled out mold.