Many Calgary schools holding lotteries for new students

Next month, the first of two public school lotteries will be held in Calgary. A look at why thousands of Calgary parents are entering their children into lotteries for a spot in a public school.

Anxious parents at 29 schools awaiting results of Calgary Board of Education lottery

Rows of desks and chairs in an otherwise empty classroom.
The Calgary Board of Education says 13 regular program schools and 16 alternative program schools are holding lotteries for spots in the coming weeks. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Thousands of Calgary parents are entering their children into lotteries for a spot in a public school.

The city’s population of school-age kids is soaring, especially in the suburbs, putting pressure on already crowded schools.

Next month, the first of two public school lotteries will be held in Calgary. Last year, nearly 2,500 kids didn't get into their first-choice school, even if it was the elementary school in their neighbourhood.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that we’ve had to move to a lottery system to allow children to access their local public school,” said Joy Bowen-Eyre, chair of the Calgary Board of Education.

  • Hear Joy Bowen-Eyre's interview on the Calgary Eyeopener by clicking on the Listen button.

This year 29 public schools are holding lotteries for acceptance, up from 25 last year. Sometimes that’s the neighbourhood school closest to home, but more than half are for a spot at a school with a special program, such as Spanish bilingual learning.

Most of the kids entered into lotteries are going into kindergarten or Grade 1 this fall, however some older kids may also be facing a lottery.

Parents frustrated

“We are hearing lots from parents. They are extremely frustrated, it’s stressful on their family,” Bowen-Eyre said. “We know kids are best suited when they are with their friends, their neighbours, and they have the ability to walk to school. So what this really speaks to, for us, is the critical need for student space.”

In years past, parents even camped out overnight in line to secure a spot for their child. The public school board has now moved to a consistent lottery system across all of its schools.

Who gets top priority?

The first priority are students in the “walk zone” (usually a 1.2 km radius from the school) who have a sibling in the school.

The second priority is students in the “walk zone” without a sibling in the school, and those outside the walk zone with a sibling in the school.

Sometimes, if there is enough space for all those kids to attend, no lottery is needed. But not always. It’s not unheard of for an eldest or only child to not get into the school right across the street from their home.

If there are still spots in the school after the first and second priority students are selected, a lottery is held for the remaining kids who live within the school’s catchment area.

The board has designated overflow schools to try to keep neighbourhood kids together who don’t get into the nearby school. Last year, 1,254 kids who didn't win a lottery spot were designated to an overflow school.

Another 1,215 kids didn't get into their first choice alternative program.

Students in Calgary’s north, west and southern suburbs are more likely to face a lottery system, although lotteries are held across the city, said Bowen-Eyre.

“The answer is more schools,” she said.

To keep up with enrolment, the CBE says it needs 50 new schools in the next five years.

The lottery for regular schools will be held Feb. 11 and for schools with special programs on March 1.


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