Nova Scotia

Caps on class sizes mean little at this crowded Halifax school

The province's legislated caps on class sizes are not being met at Park West School. The most recent numbers show the school is at least 40 per cent over capacity. It is one of 23 schools in the Halifax region that were at or above capacity earlier this year.

Park West School in Clayton Park is around 140 per cent capacity, latest numbers show

Park West School in Halifax's Clayton Park neighbourhood is at least 40 per cent over capacity. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

A Halifax school that is at least 40 per cent over capacity needs an immediate fix, not temporary solutions, says a Halifax parent.

Park West School in Clayton Park is one of the most crowded schools in the Halifax area, despite the province's legislated caps on class size.

Laura Ankcorn said three of her children who attend the school are regularly in classes of 27 or 28 students.

"That in itself is a huge problem for me," she said. "Kids don't get the attention they deserve."

Park West is one of 23 schools in the Halifax region that were at or above capacity in the 2017-2018 school year.

Laura Ankcorn is the parent of three children at Park West School. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Last year, half of Park West's 32 classes had more students than the maximum size laid out by the province. Classes have a cap that differs by grade:

  • Grades P-2 capped at 20.
  • Grades 3-6 capped at 25.
  • Grades 7-9 capped at 28.
  • Grades 10-12 capped at 32.

Ankcorn doesn't think the caps are making any difference at her children's school. 

"They're not being met at all. The caps don't apply for that school, because there's simply no room in the school. So the children, just because they live in that area, an area of high enrolment, they don't get the benefit."

Her oldest child is in a portable classroom for the second year in a row. Last year, there were five portables at the school and a sixth one was added over the summer.

"Children find the portables to be quite cramped. Having to leave the portable to go outside to get into the school, to use the washroom, is an inconvenience," she said. 

"I know the portables are a necessity for now, but they're certainly not a permanent or long-term solution."

The provincial government announced four new schools for the Halifax region in April, including one in the Clayton Park/Fairview area. Ankcorn said that's going to take time and immediate solutions are needed. 

According to data compiled in early 2018 by the former Halifax school board, 23 schools were at 100 per cent capacity or more. 

Park West's numbers showed students are taking up 146 per cent of the school's capacity, which is the third-highest in the system. Seventeen schools were listed at 50 per cent capacity or less. 

The chair of Park West's school advisory council, Karen Saweczko, wrote in an email to CBC that many parents do not object to the portables. 

"The portables are all new or recently renovated and are not cramped," Sawczko wrote. "There are no educational or learning issues associated with the portables. While some parents and children are unhappy with being outside the main building, many others enjoy the portables and the autonomy they bring."

This year's enrolment numbers for all schools will not be finalized until Sept. 30. According to the HRCE, as of Sept. 17, the number of students enrolled at Park West was 830, a drop of 30 students from the last school year. 

The Halifax Regional Centre for Education said several years ago, the school board heard overwhelmingly from the Park West community that parents did not want a boundary review or a change in grade configurations at the school. 

In the spring, officials asked the Park West school advisory council again whether to change boundaries and grade configuration because of the high enrolment numbers. The council said no, so the school put other measures in place, including the additional portable this summer. 

Doug Hadley is a spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

"We also have assigned two teachers that we call floaters to the school, and what they do is they go around on a schedule and they assist teachers in their classrooms so we have two adults in a class if the class might be above cap size because of lack of space," said Doug Hadley, a spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education.

In the meantime, Hadley said the centre will keep monitoring all over-crowded schools. Administrators will also go back to the Park West community in the fall to discuss the issue.

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca