British Columbia

Kindergarten shortage in Vancouver's Olympic Village is a 'crisis,' parents say

Families say a shortage of kindergarten spaces in the Olympic Village area means the neighbourhood school is over capacity and kids are ending up in schools on the other side of the city.

Sending children to schools in other parts of city 'fragments their sense of community,' says one

Laura Moore sits with her two children at Lilian To Park in Vancouver on Oct. 31. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Families say a shortage of kindergarten spaces in the Olympic Village area means the neighbourhood school is over capacity and kids are ending up in schools on the other side of the city.

Starting Friday and until the end of January 2020, Vancouver parents can register their kids for kindergarten.

Laura Moore lives in Mount Pleasant, a block away from Simon Fraser Elementary, but even she has no guarantee that her daughter Sadie will be registered there.

"We had no idea until we moved into the neighbourhood and started talking to other parents at the park that it was very, very hard to actually get a spot at the school."

Olympic Village is part of Simon Fraser's catchment area, meaning parents living in that part of the city must register their kids at the school. 

The district first prioritizes placing kids in schools where their siblings are already enrolled. 

Last year, Simon Fraser received 104 kindergarten applications. Only 40 students were enrolled while the rest were put on a wait-list and eventually placed at other schools.

Lisa McAllister says the densification of the Olympic Village area has been ongoing for years and families are still waiting for a solution to the school shortage. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Bad for community, parent says

Moore says her family moved into the neighbourhood three months ago, in part because of its proximity to Simon Fraser Elementary. Now, they're preparing for the possibility that Sadie will be placed in a school much further away.

"Forcing children to go to schools that are further away from their homes, not within their catchment zones, really fragments their sense of community," said Moore.

"[Me and my kids] go to all the parks around here and we see kids that we know and we love to hang out with. We interact with their families."

In Olympic Village, Lisa McAllister is expecting to be in a similar position next fall, when her daughter will be old enough to register for kindergarten at Simon Fraser.

The Vancouver School Board says Simon Fraser Elementary is one of several schools in the area facing enrolment pressures. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

She says neighbourhoods like the River District in South Vancouver and the Cambie corridor will face the same school shortage as new buildings keep going up.

"Surprise, families are living in condos," she said. "We don't have a car and I expect that I shouldn't have to drive my child to school for multiple reasons."

No funding for new school

The school board says it first requested provincial funding for a new school in the Olympic Village area in 2006 and made it a top priority for capital funding as of June 2019.

In a statement, the B.C. Ministry of Education says it will review the board's capital plan before making any funding decisions.

It added that nearly $272 million has already gone to the school district for capital projects, with seismic upgrades as the top priority.

"While we recognize parts of Vancouver are changing and densifying, the VSB ranks 60th out of 60 school districts in enrolment growth, and enrolment is forecasted to continue to decline for the next decade," said the ministry's statement.

The school board is considering short-term solutions while awaiting a new school, including arranging a bus to pick up kids in the Olympic Village area and take them to a school elsewhere in the city.

In the meantime, parents say they're having to make difficult decisions about their children's education. 

McAllister says one option on the table is homeschooling her daughter, or even holding her back a year to see if the situation improves.

"I don't want to move, but if that's the only answer at the end of the day, that might eventually be our solution," she said.

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