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  • Tracy Sherlock

Vancouver parents express ‘serious concern’ with schools plan

This map from the Vancouver School Board's long-range facilities plan shows the capacity utilization of the city's secondary schools, as well as the seismic upgrade status.

The Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council is asking school trustees to think carefully before they vote Monday night on a plan for the future of the city’s school buildings.

School district staff have released a plan that calls for trustees to consider consolidating and possibly closing some of the city’s schools, but some parents say important elements are missing from the plan, including trustees’ vision, a capacity utilization target and information about where children live, rather than where they choose to go to school.

Gord Lau, president of Vancouver’s DPAC, said parents have been urging trustees to create a vision for the future of education in Vancouver. They’ve now done that, but the vision is missing from the long-range facilities plan, Lau said.

“We have been advocating to the trustees to take ownership of the document and talk about an educational vision for the district, for years – quite literally years – and they have articulated a vision… but that vision is not central to the document,” Lau said.

The vision is found only in an appendix and Lau says there are no steps or timeline to properly realize the vision within the document.

The province, which is responsible for building schools, requires a long-range facilities plan from the district. There's pressure in Vancouver, particularly, because many of the schools are old and are deemed to be high-risk in an earthquake.

The Ministry of Education tends to pay for the “lowest cost option,” but VSB can contribute their own funds, if they have any, to build bigger and better schools. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside has promised to work with the district to “support positive, long-term learning environments for VSB students.”

The number of children attending Vancouver schools has dropped and in the past, the province had a capacity utilization target of 95 per cent.

The parent group also wants trustees to explicitly state in the document that a 95-per-cent capacity utilization target is no longer being considered and commit to establishing what an appropriate target would be.

“If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to have some resiliency in the system. A 95-per-cent capacity utilization target is not appropriate,” Lau said. “The importance of stating a target is that there is a big difference between saying we need to have 15,000 less seats and 5,000 less seats. The implications of those two extremes are really important.

Lau recognizes that the population of school-age children in Vancouver has dropped and that closing some schools may be necessary.

Parents are also concerned that the plan only looks at where children go to school, rather than focusing on where they live. There is a policy of school choice in B.C., that allows students to attend schools outside of their neighbourhood if there is space. But projecting future enrolment based on today’s choices “bakes in” those past choices and inequities and could make them permanent, Lau said. He gave the example of French-immersion only schools, which are only found on the city’s west side.

“We believe that knowing where children live should be part of expressing the need for schools in a given neighbourhood, rather than here are the enrolment projections,” Lau said.

VSB trustee Jennifer Reddy has put forward a motion that the VSB not dispose of any of its land by sale or transfer in fee simple, not precluding land swaps or leases. Vancouver DPAC endorses this motion, which will come before the full board Monday night.

“Public assets should remain public assets. You never sell land because you can’t get it back,” Lau said.

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