Vernon, B.C - Source: Unsplash

A group of British Columbia youth advocates are aiming to open a tuition-free independent school by September 2025 – a school that would exclude the province’s controversial SOGI 123 (sexual orientation and gender identity) program and keep classrooms free of distractions.

Instead, Vernon Oak Elementary, in the Okanagan city of Vernon, B.C., would develop a homegrown anti-bullying curriculum. 

“We’re going to have a whole policy around how we are going to deal with bullying. One of the things that we’re going to focus on is how we are all the same, as opposed to pointing out differences between people. Because we think that creates more division between people,” Vernon Oak Learning Society director Amber Stamm’ler told True North.

The school, which would begin serving Kindergarten-Grade 2 and grow from there, would also be a cellphone-free environment.

“Cellphone-free does not mean we’re against technology or teaching children technology, we just don’t want the distraction that it causes. And we would like to encourage face-to-face socialization, as opposed to doing all this online with social media,” Stamm’ler said.

“And of course, there’s also the added danger of cellphones and bullying, it’s much easier to bully online.”

The school would run year-round so that families with two working parents won’t have to struggle to find care for their children in the summer, and there would be no enrollment charge.

“We want it to be for all children of the community, and not just be for people that are well-off and have money,” Amber explained.

Vernon Oak Elementary would not have a religious affiliation. 

“Although our school is non-sectarian, we will be teaching children about various religions from an educational perspective as well as exposing children to the concept of the existence of a greater power,” its website states.

Students of Vernon Oak would also visit farms and retirement homes, run small businesses within the school, practice healthy eating, learn critical thinking and public speaking, and study first aid and financial management. 

Independent schools in B.C. can receive 35 to 50% of the funding that a public school receives per student. The schools must deliver the B.C. education ministry’s curriculum, but they have the freedom to approach the curriculum from their own perspective and employ teachers who reflect these perspectives. 

“Our school will satisfy the requirements set out by the ministry, however, we will only be accountable to the parents and the children who attend our school and share our values. We will have an open-door policy for those parents,” the school group states.

They hope to receive some public funding, but they will still have to raise what they anticipate to be millions of dollars to get off the ground.

“We’re going to acquire land and build modulars or acquire existing infrastructure for the school. And then the expenses after that for insurance, set-up, maintenance, staffing. And then the ongoing costs of maintaining teachers and teachers aides,” director Lee Warzecha said.

They’ve set up an online fundraiser to help with their start-up costs, and an adjoining fee-based preschool would also help with costs. They’re also seeking a donor with land.

According to the directors, if they do not raise enough funds or if the school is not approved, all donations will be returned.

British Columbia has no charter school system – the only province in Canada with such a system is Alberta. 

“We are laying the foundations so that the community can have a new school for their kids,” Stamm’ler said.

“So this is why we’re really counting on the community to support themselves really, to start this new school, because we know people want it, they just really have to recognize that this is their opportunity that we have created for them.”

“I believe that the children are really, really the foundation for humanity,” director Sibille Beyer added.

 “And so our children really deserve the best education.” 

Author

  • Lindsay Shepherd

    Lindsay holds an M.A. in Cultural Analysis and Social Theory from Wilfrid Laurier University. She has been published in The Post Millennial, Maclean’s, National Post, Ottawa Citizen, and Quillette.