McNaughton Centre students cheer as a police car flashes lights while passing by their protest Sept. 24. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

“I should be in school” — Quesnel alternate school students protest classroom removals

McNaughton Centre students took to the streets to protest on Sept. 24

More than a dozen current students from McNaughton Centre alternate high school gathered outside the school in downtown Quesnel on Thursday, Sept. 24 to protest what they feel are unfair removals from class.

Multi-coloured signs with phrases like “I should be in school” were held by most of the protesters, who were greeted with honking horns by passing vehicles and even a flash of lights from a passing police car, which drew cheers.

The students are outraged at being removed from classes and even from school altogether in a process they called “wait-listing.”

As an alternative school, McNaughton Centre only accepts a certain number of students and only by referral from other schools. Demand is high enough that there is a wait list of students.

Suzanne Bolin was acting principal for McNaughton on Sept. 24 and is the principal for Quesnel Junior School as well.

She explained because McNaughton is in such a high demand, the school runs on cycles of around six weeks, adding there are many reasons why a student might be moved out for one or two cycles.

“There is no getting kicked out [at McNaughton],” she said. “The idea is sometimes if you’re not using your space to the best you can at that time, you just need to take a break and come back. Sometimes kids see that as being punitive.”

Students already accepted into McNaughton can be removed and put back on the wait list — sometimes unfairly, the protesting students say.

Alexis McDonald was one of the students wait-listed.

“I didn’t even get a warning, and I wasn’t told I was wait-listed,” she said “I got a call home saying I need to go to counselling. I’m already in touch with my counsellor, but they told my whole class before they told me.”

Students accused staff at the school of not taking their mental health issues seriously.

“We have teachers telling us we need to go to counselling — that’s not OK,” Emily Brunswick said.

A student said a teacher said “oh, I’ll fix you,” after she told them about her struggles reading and writing.

McDonald was incredulous that her guardians were told she needed counselling, gesturing the counsellor she goes to is right down the street from the protest location.

“We go to an alternative school, and they keep pointing out our mental health like we don’t know it’s an issue,” she said.

Quesnel School District superintendent Sue-Ellen Miller met with the students in a meeting inside McNaughton’s gym after discussing issues with the student-protesters outside the school.

Miller was speaking with students within a half hour of the start of the protest. Facing down a chorus of complaints, she tried taking a broader approach.

“Everyone is always welcome to protest, but the concern for us is we need to sit down and gather our ideas-” she was cut off by a student who replied, “We were told we were not allowed to do that.”

Some students said they would refuse to graduate unless the school district returned some students.

“We need to deal with each family … and talk with their guardians, and we’ll work through those issues,” Miller said. “To choose to not graduate because someone is wait-listed — that’s still your choice, but I would say that’s not the best choice.”

The students were invited into the school to meet with school staff inside the gym. Nearly every student protesting was wearing a mask, and school staff provided masks to anyone who wanted to join in on the meeting.

Bolin was complimentary of the students after the meeting, calling them well-organized.

“[The students] were well-mannered,” she said. “They did a good job articulating their concerns, and they certainly have a right to protest. All those things were great, and we were able to give them some feedback.”

READ MORE: ‘Save our principals’: Terrace students walk out to protest staffing changes

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