High enrollment forces Richmond elementary schools to limit new students

Parents in four catchment areas upset their children won't get in to neighbourhood school

Richmond has long been proud of sending students to schools in their neighbourhood, but now this is changing.

Prospective students in the catchment area of four kindergarten schools are not allowed to attend them in September, according to a letter sent out by the Richmond School Board earlier this month.

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The four schools affected are Ferris, Archilbald Blair, Tomekichi Homma and Tomsett elementary schools. Only students who already have siblings attending these schools can get enrolled in September 2018, said the letter.

Sandra Nixon, vice chair of the school board, said the decision was made because those schools have been experiencing high enrolment and are near capacity – even while total overall enrolment in Richmond keeps declining.

“And a 2016 court decision, which resulted in a provincial agreement that made class sizes smaller for all grades, has put even more pressure on the capacity of these schools,” she added.

All the four schools are located in high-density residential areas with one in Steveston and three north of Richmond – where the population has surged in recent years.

“To try to add additional classroom space at these schools would begin to compromise the quality of education and programming that students would receive,” said Nixon.

The decision cannot be appealed through district policy processes, nor will a waitlist be established for the placement of those schools, according to the letter.

Nixon said options such as using portables are not possible either at this time, so students in those catchment areas will have to choose an alternative neighbouring school with sufficient space.

Parents are very upset with the school board’s decision, including Gina Ho living across the street from Ferris, who will have to drive her daughter to another school in September.

“I feel really bad because my daughter goes to the playground every day, and since she was little, she has been told that she'd go to that school,” said Ho.

“Her cousin also goes to Ferris, and my mom could have sent both girls to that school and picked them up. Now I have to figure out the transportation."

Ho said the school board always promotes walking to school and staying in the community, but now "all of a sudden, they are not following what they are standing by.”

Some parents said it is very “irresponsible” and “unfair” for the school board to give such short notice when many other school options are closed at this time.

“Actually I don’t mind if we need to change schools, but I was so mad that they waited so long to tell us,” said Celine Chen, a mom living near Ferris Elementary School.

“They should have known that they had to minimize the number of students last year. Why didn’t they give us notice then? We didn’t even receive an alert while registering at Ferris in November.”

Chen said many schools she likes already no longer accept registration, and two schools close to her home on the alternative list given by the school board also told her they are full – she had to choose one further away from home in the end.

Apart from the inconvenience, she is worried that her daughter will not integrate among her neighbours and local community compared to if she was able to stay.

“It’s very unfair for us. They've made our life change a lot, and they didn’t even apologize for it. It’s very upsetting.”

Nixon said that they certainly understand parents’ disappointment, but the decisions made by the district “were difficult and were not made lightly.”

She noted that the school board will need to continue to “manage enrolment throughout the district for a number of years” to tackle the challenges that are being seen.

“We are dealing with enrolment and space pressures at some schools, declining overall enrolment, and the impact of anticipated seismic mitigation projects over the next number of years,” said Nixon.

“We are in the process of taking a comprehensive look at the issues we are facing, while examining future enrolment projections for every school.”

Affected parents wishing to explore a different school placement are required to contact the central registration office at 604-668-6000 ext 6058 by no later than April 6.

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