A group of Vancouver parents were shocked to learn recently that while their children’s elementary school undergoes seismic upgrades, the young students will be bused to temporary schools in the far corner of the city.
Other Vancouver parents have dealt with similar situations as their schools have become earthquake-safe in recent years, but the cross-town trek faced by kids from Edith Cavell Elementary is particularly far, their parents say. And with 64 high-risk schools in Vancouver still requiring upgrades, it’s a challenge other families may soon have to confront.
On Sept. 28, the Ministry of Education and the Vancouver school board announced plans for seismic upgrades at Edith Cavell and General Wolfe elementary schools. The announcement, including combined provincial government funding of $35.8 million, was initially welcomed by the Cavell community, but as parents learned more about the details, they raised questions and concerns.
More recently, the VSB has been in talks with members of the Cavell community to “re-investigate” the plan unveiled in September, and consider options.
During seismic upgrade work, students from Cavell and Wolfe will be bused from their respective schools to attend class at alternate “swing schools.” Wolfe students will attend a swing school three kilometres away. But students from Cavell, in Cambie Village, will bus to two separate schools about 10 km away in Vancouver’s southeast corner near Burnaby.
Parents say they understand the need for seismic work on the century-old schoolhouse, but they fear the length of the commute will be onerous, and they question how the process has unfolded so far. While the government’s September announcement said construction would begin in spring 2020, an email just last week from Cavell’s principal informed parents it would start sooner, in fall 2019. Students are expected to return to Cavell in fall 2021, after work is completed.
“I think it’s unprecedented in Vancouver to have kids on a school bus so long,” said Sacha Iley, whose son is in Grade 3 at Cavell and daughter is set to enter kindergarten next year, meaning they’d attend separate swing schools next year. “Having my children so far away, at two separate schools, is unacceptable … It’s tearing our community apart.”
“It’s nothing against Champlain Heights and MacCorkindale,” Iley said. “They’re good schools, good kids, good parents. It’s just too far away.”
Iley was part of a group of about 50 parents and kids from Cavell who attended a VSB meeting Monday night, in which the newly elected trustees were officially sworn in.
Outgoing VSB trustee Carrie Bercic, who was not re-elected to another term, wrote on Twitter from Monday’s meeting about the Cavell Group: “SO impressed w/ their passion, drive & determination. They came to show visibility, while still respectfully acknowledging the swearing in.”
VSB deputy superintendent David Nelson met Tuesday with members of the Cavell parent advisory council and the school principal to discuss the situation.
“We are in active communication with the community, and we’ve heard their concerns and we’re doing everything we can to address them while at the same time … we don’t want to delay the seismic project,” Nelson said.
“We’ve heard from them clearly that they feel it is too far, that they would like their families not to be split between two sites. But we’ve also heard from them that they want the seismic project to proceed and they want the students in safe schools,” Nelson said. “So we’ve been re-investigating and looking at any options or possibilities for swing-site space that could be different, without slowing down the process.”
The VSB’s top priority, Nelson said, is to “get kids and families into seismically safe schools as quickly as possible.”
But that poses challenges, he said, because: “We have multiple schools going through the seismic program at the same time, and we only have a few (swing-site) facilities.”
In response to questions, B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming wrote in an email: “I completely understand the concerns of parents and students when they are temporarily relocated for construction projects.
“Boards of education decide which swing spaces are used and are responsible for planning and communicating this with the school community. I am pleased to hear that newly elected trustees and VSB administrators are meeting with Cavell elementary school parents to consider the best options.”
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