Parents rally ahead of closure report

On the heels of sending a 3,561-person strong petition to the B.C. Legislature this July to oppose what they call a lack of public education funding, a vocal group of parents is bracing itself to learn what school closures will be recommended by the Richmond School District.

“We disagree that closing elementary schools and putting these children into portables and making them walk up to three kilometres is the answer,” said Kelly Greene, a member of the grassroots group Richmond Schools United and parent of students at Diefenbaker elementary, which is one of 16 schools on a short list to be closed.

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“We also disagree that students (Montessori, Early French Immersion, Late French Immersion) can be moved anywhere within the city. We will have to wait to see how many Richmond families are disrupted and how many in-school before/after school care facilities are closed.” 

The parents are welcoming all members of the public to a 30-minute rally outside MLA John Yap’s office on Bayview Street in Steveston, Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

At issue is the Ministry of Education’s (now disputed) edict that the district create efficiencies to qualify for seismic upgrades, which are needed at 24 schools in Richmond.

The petition called on the Ministry to not apply an “unreasonable” utilization threshold of 95 per cent to qualify for the upgrades (currently, the district is at about 82 per cent capacity).

However, that demand is now a point of contention between the Ministry and district. The district stated the Ministry told it to reach 95 per cent utilization district-wide; however, the Ministry has since denied such a specific ultimatum, instead asking the district to provide a “business case” for upgrading an underutilized school.

Board chair Debbie Tablotney said the Ministry’s statements were false and that new capital planning instructions from June refer to the 95 per cent threshold.

Regardless, given roughly a decade of declining enrolment, the district claims it must close between three to five schools, and trustees will hear its recommendations from the superintendent this Monday at a public school board meeting (7 p.m. at 7811 Granville Avenue). A decision will be made at the Oct. 17 meeting.

“The school board’s position, from what we understand, is that there are inefficiencies in the public school system in Richmond,” said Greene.

“We have always said we might not hit 95 per cent. We’re going to try and create the best business case,” said Tablotney.

Parent Kim Nowitsky said all parents and Richmond residents should be concerned about the closures. She noted more children will be put in portables as a result and schools that remain open will see more students, thus affecting the quality of education.

The group has called for what they say is a more reasonable 85 per cent threshold.

Even still, “we strongly believe that seismic remediation funding should be released immediately, so that life-saving improvements can be made to our schools to protect our children, their educators, and support staff,” said Greene.

The group says the school closures are a result of a bigger symptom, and that’s “deliberate” underfunding of public education. 

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