Parents 'devastated' by lack of space in growing school district
Published Thursday, March 2, 2017 6:44PM PST
Two Coquitlam mothers are asking the province for a solution to overcrowded classrooms in an area where the population is outgrowing the number of public schools.
The women took their frustrations to the legislature on Thursday after learning their school of choice is unable to accommodate their kids.
Both of the parents have children that attend a daycare next door to Cedar Drive Elementary in Port Coquitlam, coveted spots they had a difficult time obtaining.
"My son's been in daycare since he was about 10 months old," Stephanie Wagner told reporters at the Legislature.
"One of the hurdles as a parent is getting your child into a daycare where you feel comfortable. We were on a waitlist forever, ended up getting in, we spent three years at our daycare that we're at currently."
Because of the time Wagner's son Jack has been going to the daycare for years, he has seniority to get a before- and after-school care spot when he starts kindergarten in the fall. The daycare currently has a waiting list of about 20 people trying to get into aftercare, Wagner said.
Happy with their experience with the daycare and the community of parents, teachers, daycare staff and students in the area, Jack's parents wanted him to go to school at Cedar Drive, so he could stay with the friends he's known most of his life.
Because of where they live, the Wagners had to apply for a cross-catchment – essentially permission from the district for their son to attend a school other than the one to which his or her home is assigned. More information about catchments is available on the school district's website.
Historically, cross-catchment requests haven't been a problem, Wagner said, but this year they were told that neither of the schools their daycare services could not accommodate Jack.
Instead, Jack will have to go to his catchment school, which has daycares that offer before- and after-school care, but many are already full.
"I think one reported a 30-child waiting list, and the other one has a waitlist of about eight kids. It's very difficult," Wagner said. She added that she or her husband may have to leave work to care for Jack themselves if they're unable to find childcare for him by September.
On top of the challenge to find a daycare spot, Wagner said the family is sad to leave behind the community they'd been a part of for three years near Cedar Drive.
"The thought of that is pretty devastating," she said.
Wagner said her family is now facing the appeals process which, if successful, would result in Jack being put on a priority waitlist. Parents will be informed by the school if a spot becomes available by the end of the first week of September, according to an email sent to the Wagner family from the district.
Bree Kozak, whose daughter Sienna goes to the same daycare, was also told Cedar Drive couldn't accommodate her daughter.
They also live within the catchment of another school, though she said their home is geographically closer to Cedar Drive.
Through tears, Kozak said she felt like her request was simple: She just wants her daughter to be able to go to a public school in their neighbourhood with her peers who live in the area.
Like Wagner, she submitted cross-catchment requests for two schools and was told neither could accommodate her daughter.
"This is just to get into kindergarten… This isn't a private school," she said, explaining she was frustrated by how much work it's been just to find a place.
"I was really, really upset because this is basic public education and has been underfunded for years."
The women took their concerns to Coquitlam-Burke Mountain MLA Jodie Wickens, who brought the pair to the Legislature Thursday and voiced their concerns during question period.
Wickens said the issue is three-fold. First is that Burke Mountain, where the women live, has been developing for years, with "children moving in all the time," but the number of classrooms in the area hasn't expanded with the population. She mentioned similar issues reported in Kamloops, Surrey, Vancouver and Victoria.
"It's a massive issue all across British Columbia. We're hearing from families who can't believe how hard it is to get their child into kindergarten," she said.
"Parents are having to look at neighbouring schools because there isn't enough space at the closest one, and now the neighbouring schools are full as well."
For this, the NDP MLA blamed the Christy Clark Government, saying the issue is due to their lack of planning.
"We're in chaos and crisis," Wickens said.
"And it's completely unfair for families, for them to be crying because they don't know where their child is going to go to kindergarten. This is British Columbia. This is Canada we're talking about. This is ridiculous."
The second issue B.C. parents face is that class sizes were decreased as a result of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling, meaning schools can take in fewer students. Wickens said smaller class sizes are a good thing, and something teachers fought for, but there aren't any more schools or classrooms for the extra kids bumped by classroom caps to go.
And finally, the lack of childcare spots is forcing parents to try to move their children to schools near their daycares, since they're fearful they won't be able to find childcare if they leave.
"When families finally are able to get off waitlists and find childcare, then they're in this impossible situation because the school that they need to go to doesn't have childcare. It's a complete mess, actually," Wickens said.
Directing her question at Education Minister Mike Bernier, she asked why parents should face quitting their jobs due to what she called the government's "failure to plan for growth."
But Bernier said there are vacancies in many schools around the province, and the number of students overall is dropping. He mentioned nearly $2 billion of the 2017-18 budget is directed towards capital for new schools and seismic upgrades.
The minister said the government works with school districts to find pressure points where investments are most needed, but that the districts are where specific decisions are made.
"The local school district makes the decisions based on the best needs for the students, and I encourage all parents to work with the school districts," he said.