Last Saturday, a group of dedicated and concerned parents and grandparents walked with their children from Diefenbaker elementary to Grauer elementary to protest the process by which schools are considered for closure. The first proposed option for relocating students in the event of a Diefenbaker closure is to move all regular program students to Grauer and add “capacity” (portables).
Grauer elementary is 2.85 kilometres from Diefenbaker and walking at the speed of an elementary school child, it was a 47-minute walk. During that time, one child needed a snack, another child tripped and fell, and another child could not walk any further at the 2.5-km mark and had to be carried. We were passed by roaring dump trucks, we crossed the quite frankly scary intersection at No. 1 and Francis roads, and we trudged past kilometres of seemingly vacant arterial road mega homes.
This is Diefenbaker’s first option! Elementary aged children should not be walking the equivalent of three Sun Runs per week! Not to mention the parents and grandparents who are walking double that. Why not just get in a car and drive? Many families don’t have the luxury of two vehicles. Many families depend on childcare from grandparents who either don’t drive or don’t have access to a car.
Forcing families into vehicles is downloading the cost of education onto families, who have a reasonable expectation of accessible education for their children. Nearly three kilometres is not accessible, nor reasonable.
What about the second option for Diefenbaker? If you are a parent at Byng, McKinney, Westwind, Steves, Wowk, Gilmore or Grauer, expect to see a slice of our student population. Byng, for example, has room for 84 Diefenbaker students. Many Byng parents have expressed the belief that their school is full. Unfortunately, the before- and after-care room is “empty”, as is the multi–purpose and fine arts facilities. The school district will squeeze in students throughout the area to accommodate a Diefenbaker closure.
In both options considered, Diefenbaker students would be relocated to schools as far away as Gilmore or Grauer, both nearly three kms from Diefenbaker. If you lived on the far edge of the catchment, as many children in the townhouse developments do, you would definitely expect to walk over three kms each way. It is interesting that the school district is not considering its own guidance, that children should not have to walk in excess of 15 minutes to school. Byng, Steves, and McKinney are within that radius and have a combined available capacity of 166. Currently, 353 students attend Diefenbaker. Literally hundreds of children aged four to 11 face an undue hardship travelling to school over an unreasonable distance to either Grauer or Gilmore.
We are not the only school whose future is potentially fractured. Diefenbaker’s is one story from a group of 16. The only way to stop this process is to demand the provincial government to rescind the 95 per cent capacity ultimatum.
A petition is circulating at all elementary schools in Richmond. Your local PAC will be able to offer you a copy to sign. Also, all schools in Richmond and their supporters are invited to a rally for education on June 18 at 11 a.m. in front of John Yap’s MLA office in Steveston. All are welcome!
Together, our voices will be heard in Victoria. Save our schools! Richmond Schools Stand United!