Schools on the West Shore have emergency preparedness procedures such as earthquake and fire drills down, but each school within the Sooke School District has a different level of preparedness when it comes to supplies for those emergencies.
“I know for a fact right now, we wouldn’t be ready, and I don’t think we are the only school that wouldn’t be ready,” said Kia Charko, Whishart Elementary school’s parent advisory council’s (PAC) emergency planning representative.
The responsibility has traditionally been placed on each school’s PAC to ensure there are enough supplies, according to SD62 associate superintendent Stephanie Hedley-Smith. She noted the principals attend every PAC meeting and work with the PAC as a team to determine the most important needs of the students at that school and how they will proceed.
The District requires a minimum level of three days worth of supplies at each school located in an enclosed structure, outside and independent of the school itself. But not every school in the district is meeting this standard.
There is a shed outside of Wishart that the Belmont Secondary woodworking department made more than five years ago. It houses a shovel, a couple of tarps and some expired water.
Hedley-Smith noted the District is working with the Sooke parents’ education advisory council (SPEAC) – the advisory council for the entire district – on a plan to define what’s considered “minimal” for a baseline standard. But that can be hard to define as schools can vary in size from 200 to 700 students.
Charko took on the roles of emergency planning representative and Wishart’s SPEAC representative this year and is also part of the emergency planning committee, a sub-committee of SPEAC. She noted some schools are prepared and have had very dedicated PACs for years, but it takes a small army, and she’s in the process of rallying people together at Wishart to prepare to a level the school would be happy with.
The District would like to have shipping containers, or sea cans, full of supplies for each school, but it is costly, said Hedley-Smith. The container itself costs roughly $6,000 and filling it with supplies could bring that total to nearly $10,000.
For a school of Wishart’s size with roughly 300 students, that translates to about $30 per student.
There are 26 schools in SD62, which means the District or PACs could be looking at a bill of more than $250,000 if every school were to be outfitted with a new container and supplies.
The District has a two-page itemized list of supplies that each container should be equipped with and some of the items (other than food and water) include tents, tarps, flashlights, emergency blankets, and first-aid kits.
Hedley-Smith said some sea cans have let water in and mould the supplies, so the District has started working to figure out how to create a more waterproofed container, without increasing the cost dramatically.
Also, some of the supplies, especially water and food, need to be replaced regularly.
As a way to reduce costs, or make supplies more effective, Hedley-Smith said some schools could share if they are within walking distance from each other.
Some PACs have asked parents to send care kits with their children and others have asked for donations.
Charko said SPEAC is planning to send an emergency preparedness assessment survey to each school’s PAC.
But while she noted she’s passionate about the safety of the children, she said the idea of a PAC is to raise money for kids to have fun and enjoy activities that build school spirit and community, like school dances, and sports day events. PACs raise money for teachers so they can update their classroom because it affects their children, but she said the general consensus from parents is the province should be paying for these emergency supplies.
She noted the Wishart PAC wants to write a letter to SD62 addressing the fact they don’t feel they should have to use their hard-earned money for basic emergency supplies, but acknowledged the District needs money from the province first.
Charko said the topic of money from the province for basic supplies in schools is a big issue right now and the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils is looking to address it at its next conference in May.
She added SPEAC even discussed holding a protest to withdraw funding towards anything in the classroom, putting that pressure on the District and the province.
SPEAC’s next emergency preparedness meeting is at Belmont Secondary school on April 25 from 7 to 9 p.m. and is open to everyone. To find out more about SPEAC, go to sd62.bc.ca.