Vancouver parents denounce long kindergarten wait-lists

Hundreds of parents in Vancouver are livid this week after being told their children won't be accepted into the kindergarten in their catchment area or nearby school — especially for popular programs like French immersion.

School board says it won't know final numbers until March

Some parents in Vancouver say their children are on long wait lists to get into the kindergarten classes in their catchment areas. (CBC)

When Jenny Rutherford and her spouse moved into Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood years ago, they just assumed their future children would go to school nearby.

The couple live two blocks away from Simon Fraser Elementary. That's where their two children now play and where one of them attends playschool. 

But, like hundreds of other parents in Vancouver, Rutherford found out this week her child is far down the wait-list to get into the school in their catchment area. 

"It's quite upsetting," Rutherford said. "Part of you panics and the other part of you immediately gets to work."

The Vancouver School Board sent out notices to parents this week telling them whether they were accepted into the school in their catchment area or into a "choice" program like French Immersion or Montessori. 

VSB associate superintendent David Nelson says it looks like there will be 11 schools with wait-lists this year — most of them downtown or around False Creek and the Cambie corridor. 

"This is not a process that anyone — the district or parents — like," Nelson said.

He emphasized the exact numbers are still unknown, because parents apply to both the school in their child's catchment area and, if they like, a choice program. As they decide which one they would prefer in the next one to two weeks, some spots are freed up. 

"We anticipate there will be a lot of movement,," Nelson said. 

To deal with the problem, the VSB is currently reviewing its catchment areas. Nelson said there are also new schools planned in Olympic Village and False Creek. 

In the meantime, Nelson said the VSB will work with parents to find a school in their neighbourhood if there isn't room at the school in their catchment area. He said some parents may also choose a school outside their catchment area boundary, through a separate application process. 

It's what Jenny Rutherford is planning to do, because, other than Simon Fraser Elementary, her closest school is Florence Nightingale — a school at high risk of being damaged in the event of seismic activity. 

'It's unacceptable'

The issue appears to be even more dire for parents hoping to put their children into the popular French immersion prgram.

Last year, a Supreme Court decision combined with a shortage of French-speaking teachers prompted the school board to cut 135 spots in the popular program.

Five schools each lost one class:

  • Trafalgar Elementary.
  • Lord Selkirk Elementary.
  • Hastings Elementary.
  • Lord Tennyson Elementary.
  • L'École Bilingue Elementary.

Glyn Lewis, the executive director of the B.C. and Yukon chapter of Parents for French, said long wait lists are nothing new for French immersion programs in Vancouver. But he said last year's cuts have made the problem worse.

"It's unacceptable," Lewis said. "Parent are rightly upset and frustrated by it. They understand that French immersion is a life-changing educational program." 

The school board has been actively recruiting French-speaking teachers in other provinces. It's offering a $1,500 moving allowance to teachers willing to come from outside of the province.

Lewis said long wait lists for French immersion have been a long-standing problem. He said the school board should have started to take a more proactive approach to resolving the issue years ago.

This isn't the first time parents have decried the city's kindergarten lottery. 

Last year, eight schools in the downtown, Cambie corridor and False Creek areas were feeling the squeeze, with too many neighbourhood children wanting in but not enough spaces in the classes.

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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