Calgary parents frustrated by delays to high school boundaries public engagement

Parents of junior high students waiting to find out where their child will attend high school say it's time for the CBE to "pull the Band-Aid off" and let families plan.

One family says they're left weighing a move, as one kilometre could make the difference in schools

Ernest Manning High school is one of several of Calgary Board of Education high schools that is over capacity. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) has delayed its high school scenarios process yet again, leaving parents of junior high students waiting to find out where their child will attend high school.

Some of those parents say it's time for the school board to "pull the Band-Aid off," allowing families to plan for the future.

Christopher Usih, chief superintendent of the CBE, said the purpose of this work will determine the catchment areas for students entering high school in the 2022-2023 school year. The plan is meant to deal with growing capacity issues faced by numerous high schools in the city. 

"Otherwise what will happen is we'll have situations where if a school is way above capacity, then we run into challenges around safety and even our ability to be able to provide effective programming because there are just too many students in that one building," he said. 

"You probably heard in fall of last school year that one of our high schools, [Ernest Manning], was way over capacity and we were really challenged from a health and safety standpoint."

Changing timelines

Documents posted on the CBE website in May 2019 said the original timeline for the engagement process would see the scenarios finalized and communicated between July and October 2021. In February 2020, the timeline was adjusted, pushing back the engagement and presentation of possible scenarios from March to June 2020, to September to November last year.

However, that never happened, and in November, CBE parents were informed that the board would be sharing the high school scenarios with them this month. But in an email sent home last week, the CBE informed parents there would be yet another delay — and that scenarios would be released and and engagement would take place between Feb. 23 and March 17.

These are the Calgary schools included in the high school engagement process, and their projected utilization rates if changes are not made. (CBE)

Kelly Van Webber has a daughter in junior high who will be directly impacted by these decisions. The area their family lives in is currently designated for Ernest Manning, but these potential boundary changes could see them designated to Central Memorial.

"The concerning part around that is … when they redid the boundaries for [Ernest Manning High School] before, they basically said in November of that year, 'your kids are going to these schools,' and it was under a year to plan and families were thrown into chaos," he said. 

COVID-19 to blame for delays

Usih said all of the delays to this process have been caused by COVID-19 and the challenges the school board has faced when it comes to school re-entry and online learning. 

He said it's been an adjustment to switch to engaging families and staff online, as opposed to an in-person session.

Van Webber said he struggles to see how this work can be dragging on for more than a year-and-a-half.

"[The CBE] knows the numbers, so make a decision and let people plan," he said. "Pull the Band-Aid off already."

For his family, Van Webber said knowing which high school their daughter is designated to has big implications.

"We're going to see where our designated high school is and we've talked to different families and said, 'Hey, do we form some sort of carpool to go to Bowness?' for example. A bit of a circuitous route to get there, but at least it's a shorter commute," he said.

"We've kicked around the idea of, do we move basically a kilometre away to get on the other side of Old Banff Coach road to get into the catchment for Manning if we decide that's the best or the appropriate school? Should move into the catchment area? So, going back and forth with that."

CBE confident parents will have time to plan

Usih said he appreciates and understands that families want their child to  attend a school where there's strong and effective programming. 

"And, if parents have concerns about programming or any aspect of the school there, we have processes in place for addressing those," he said. "But I cannot emphasize enough the need to ensure that we have strong programming in every one of our schools."

Van Webber said the uncertainty of this process is beginning to weigh on students too. 

"My daughter is in Grade 8 now, and she and her friends are starting to talk about it and, you know, you kind of want some certainty for them as they go into high school, especially with all the wackiness that COVID has caused," he said.

Usih said he knows the last year has been a difficult period for many. 

"We want to make sure that we are we are doing our due diligence to communicate clearly and to provide opportunities for families to know what our plan is going forward," he said. "And I'm confident that, you know, the timelines that we've we've indicated will will satisfy that expectation."

Following the engagement in March, Usih said the scenarios are subject to change.

But, he said the CBE is committed to finalizing all scenarios for 2022-2023 by no later than December 2021. 


Lucie Edwardson


Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson


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