British Columbia

Nearly every elementary school in Vancouver's core has a waitlist for kindergarten, and parents are frustrated

Vancouver's neighbourhoods in and around downtown have become denser in the last 30 years, but the number of new schools hasn't kept pace.

Vancouver School Board hopes construction of new school and more funding will help address shortage

Crosstown Elementary School is one of the many schools in Vancouver's core with a waitlist for kindergarten, despite only opening in 2017. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For parents living in downtown Vancouver with a child about to enter kindergarten, the month of February is inevitably stressful.

"We were waiting anxiously," said Jennifer Groenewold, who purchased a home in the Crosstown neighbourhood across the street from Crosstown Elementary School, in the hope that her daughter could have an easy walk to school.

"I was under no impression that this was going to be easy-peasy." 

Crosstown, like virtually all schools in Vancouver's core, does not have enough space for the number of students that live nearby.

It means every February, hundreds of parents wait to hear back from the Vancouver School Board (VSB) to see if their child was accepted to their catchment school — or if they're on a waiting list. 

Groenewold's daughter was placed 15th on the waitlist. She now faces the choice of immediately accepting a spot in a school further away and having more time to plan for a longer commute for her daughter, or hoping enough students move schools so her daughter eventually gets in. 

"For as long as I've lived in Vancouver … the pressures on the VSB have been largely unchanged and if anything are probably growing more acute, given the number of families that are living in the downtown core," she said.

"It seems like there's been a mismatch between a need that's been well recognised … and actions to alleviate stress on the system."

14 schools with waitlists

Vancouver's neighbourhoods in and around downtown have become denser in the last 30 years, but the number of new schools hasn't kept pace.

The VSB told CBC News that 14 schools have a waitlist, the same as last year — including nine of Vancouver's 11 elementary schools north of King Edward between Arbutus and Main street, and all four downtown schools.

Unlike previous years, the VSB did not provide the number of students on waitlists, which was more than 300 for the 2020/2021 year. 

"While families make decisions on choice program offers, the waitlist numbers fluctuate greatly at this point in the year," said the VSB in a statement. 

"In the coming months, the district will continue to manage waitlist and enrolment and determine placements for students that have been waitlisted at their full catchment school."

But Groenewold believes the VSB should be transparent with parents on what schools have had waitlists in previous years, and how many children on those lists have eventually been able to enrol.

That way, parents can make more informed decisions on where to move when they're planning to start a family, or whether to try and wait out the waitlist if placed on it. 

"I don't understand why I have to turn to six different Facebook groups and ask a lot of questions of parents who have gone through this … to understand what my child's situation is," she said. 

"Maybe there's a good policy reason behind why the information isn't readily available, but I'm having a hard time seeing it."

NDP Leader John Horgan speaks during an NDP 2020 campaign stop on the site of a promised Olympic Village school, more than a decade after the neighbourhood was created. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

New schools on the way?

The VSB hopes the construction of a new school in Coal Harbour will decrease the size of waitlists in Downtown Vancouver, and it is working with the provincial government to secure funding for a school in Olympic Village

Trustee Jennifer Reddy said it's important for parents to contact her and other elected officials to keep the pressure up to add more schools where they're needed. 

"We want, especially elementary children to be able to walk and bike and get to school safely and get home safely," she said.

"And when you can't get into the school in your neighborhood … it's so frustrating."

One of those frustrated parents is Fiorella Navarro, who only discovered after immigrating to Vancouver that the area she moved to could have a waiting list for her son Jacopo.

After her son was placed on a waitlist, Navarro bought a car, where she now drives him to his out-of-catchment school each day.

"We were searching online and looking at the schools from Italy … but just never anticipated that there wouldn't be room," she said.

"I just hope the best for my son and for every family that's struggling with the same issues."


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