British Columbia

All but one elementary school in Vancouver's core has wait-list for kindergarten

In the past few decades, the number of young families living in the core of Vancouver has drastically increased, while the number of new schools has increased much more slowly. 

More than 300 children face a wait at 14 Vancouver schools — and with that comes tough decisions for parents

Simon Fraser Elementary is one of several schools in the centre of Vancouver facing a wait list for Kindergarten spots. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

If you live in the middle of Vancouver and your first child is entering kindergarten, it's the sort of situation talked about in hushed, knowing tones. 

"I heard about it through parents talking, but you don't really know what it's all about until you go through it yourself," said Debbie Lee, who lives in the city's Fairview neighbourhood. 

"I knew it was difficult. Like, I heard it was difficult to get in. But, you know, you don't think that that would happen to you? No one thinks — you just always hope that you're not going to be the one."

Lee was speaking about the lottery for children to get into kindergarten at the school nearest to their home. 

Number of young families increasing

In the past few decades, the number of young families living in the core of Vancouver has drastically increased, while the number of new schools has increased much more slowly. 

As a result, eight of the nine elementary schools between Macdonald Street, Main Street and 16th Avenue had more applications than spaces this year, requiring a lottery with results announced last week. In the rest of the city, just six of 80 elementary schools have a waiting list. 

Lee's son is number 14 on the wait-list for False Creek Elementary School. He also didn't get into any of the nearby French immersion schools, and the closest school available is more than two kilometres away. 

Suddenly, staying in the middle of Vancouver is an open question.

"I have a daughter as well," said Lee. 

"And I don't want my son to switch schools multiple times because of the situation. So I'll need to think about what our long-term plans are as a family." 

Crosstown Elementary School, opened in 2017, has helped alleviate some of the pressure of more young families in the area — but the absence of a school in nearby Olympic Village has been a big problem. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Long-term problem

In a statement, the Vancouver School Board said more than 300 students are wait-listed for 14 schools across the city (up from 269 in the 2019-2020 school year), but added that the number is expected to change as families finalize their plans for September. 

Board Chair Carmen Cho said she understands it's not an ideal situation.

"It's a very frustrating experience for families, and I certainly understand that, and that's why the district is working very hard to ensure we accommodate in-catchment students," she said.

Cho said the school board looks to maximize instruction space within any building to increase the seat count, and limit cross-boundary students. In addition, a new school planned for Coal Harbour and another promised for Olympic Village will alleviate the wait-list in the long-term. 

But one school board trustee argues they could be more creative in the short-term, given how large the problem is.

"In other situations we have talked about and found creative solutions," said Barb Parrot. 

"It's so burdensome and causes amazing stress on parents. And that's not fair."

Many do get in

As for parents who have been through the process, they can offer one piece of advice.

"Just be patient. But expect that you may have to take your child to another school," said Stacy Buckland.

At this time last year, her five-year-old son Spencer was deep on the wait-list for nearby General Gordon elementary. Two days before the school year began, she got the call that her son had been accepted.

Buckland said the email threads between parents, conversations in Facebook groups, and being in regular contact with the school were helpful in alleviating stress about the situation and figuring out the odds of a happy conclusion. 

But even though she was ultimately successful, she still wonders why the system has to be so difficult for young families who move to neighbourhoods geared for them in so many ways — except guaranteed school spots. 

"In hindsight, I would look before we moved into the neighbourhood," she said.

"It's a major problem."

The full list of schools in Vancouver with a wait-list: Emily Carr, Edith Cavell, Crosstown, Elsie Roy, False Creek, Sanford Fleming, Simon Fraser, General Gordon, Henry Hudson, Dr. A.R. Lord, Lord Nelson, Norma Rose Point, Lord Roberts and Roberts Annex.


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