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School boards can keep older students in high school: VSB memo

The Vancouver School Board has the power to retain students over 18 in high school, a briefing note from school district staff to the Board reveals. But the district receives 30 per cent less funding for those students from the Education Ministry.

A copy of a memo dated Sept. 25 from Maureen Ciarniello, associate superintendent, to Committee III of the Vancouver School Board (VSB) was obtained by The Tyee. The memo outlines a section of the province's School Act that states:

"a board may, in accordance with any terms and conditions specified by the board, permit a person who is older than school age (a) to attend an educational program, or (b) to enroll and receive instruction in an educational program sufficient to meet the general requirements for graduation (Provision of Educational Program, 75 [8])."

There are 555 students turning 19 or 20 years old by next June currently enrolled in the district's regular school system, as opposed to the adult education system. Forty-eight are English Language Learners (ELL), while the ministry designates another 193 as special needs.

However as soon as a student turns 19, the Ministry of Education reduces the amount of per-pupil funding it provides from $6,784 to $4,430.

It's for that reason that VSB Trustee Sophia Woo wants to proceed with her motion to ask the provincial government to provide equal funding for immigrant students over 18 that stay in high school.

"The motion is asking the minister to be more flexible in the rules, to give over age students funding to complete high school," she says.

Woo introduced a notice of motion in late June, asking the board to request the Ministry provide equal funding for older ELL students. She was inspired by an article published in the Vancouver Sun that reported some ELL students are "buying grades" from international schools without a full understanding of the course concepts. As a result students are entering post-secondary schools without a proper education.

The motion wasn't officially introduced until Sept. 17 when board members voted 5-3 to defer a vote until Oct. 1 to give district staff time to research the rules regarding older students in high schools in the province.

Woo hopes the option of staying in public schools, where students' know their teachers, counsellors, and peers, will prevent them from taking the independent school route.

"Students who come to Canada when they're 17, they may go directly to independent schools," she told The Tyee.

"So we're trying to have students come back to the public school system, because the concern from a lot of universities is that although they've got the credits (from independent schools), they don't reach the standards so they have a hard time in post-secondary education."

The memo has been added as a business item for the Committee III meeting this evening. Woo's motion will come before the VSB again at their next meeting on Oct. 1.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee.

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