Annex (QEA) is a safe and happy community for 70 French Immersion students from
kindergarten to Grade 3 located in the heart of Dunbar. But it will soon
be gone if we – parents at the school and the larger community – can’t convince
the Vancouver School Board to reject plans to close it and sell the large
property it sits on.
The QEA Parent
Advisory Committee has taken every available opportunity so far to argue for our
school – we’ve written, phoned, attended meetings and even held an outdoor
protest. Our efforts will continue, but we hope the broader Dunbar community
will get involved too. Trustees are scheduled to make their final decision on
May 30, so our request is urgent.
It would be no
surprise to us if you haven’t heard of the plans yet, as the school board has rushed
them along in an incredibly non-transparent process at the height of a
pandemic. The initial meeting with
the board of trustees was Jan. 17, with just 48 hours’ notice, given over
a weekend. At that hastily called meeting, the board made a recommendation to
close and sell the school, which sits on a large property adjacent to Camosun
Bog and Pacific Spirit Park.
There are many reasons why the removal of this site from
educational use by the VSB and its subsequent sale – either to the francophone
school board or a private school – doesn’t make sense and will negatively
impact the Dunbar community.
Aside from the fact that QEA is a
uniquely popular, much-loved and successful school, it is illogical to close an
elementary school and dispose of these precious lands at a time when plans are
progressing to increase family housing in Dunbar and adjacent areas. These
plans mean it is likely the VSB will need to expand school spots in Dunbar in
the short and medium-term. Buying sites
like the one QEA sits on will be prohibitively expensive, if not impossible, in
the future. The school board should save this land for future generations of Dunbar-area
Another argument is an environmental one. If the site is sold to
either the francophone board or
to another private school, it would mean many students being driven to the
school from other parts of the city, instead of walking there, as our kids do.
That means traffic congestion and a strain on the environment, especially as we
understand the francophone board plans to build a much bigger, 435-student
school on the site.
Ultimately, the VSB is entrusted
to manage and maintain educational assets and resources in the public’s
interest over the long term. To sell off resources to meet short-term needs during
a time of growth is bad planning and a violation of the public’s trust. If we
lose this precious community asset, it will be gone forever.
Facing the potential
closure of their small early French immersion school, parents at Queen
Elizabeth Annex are warning of the impact of the closure on their own kids, and
on the neighbourhood if a much larger school is built in its place.
QEA District Parent Advisory Council
co-representative Nadine Ho, who is helping organize the campaign against the
closure, says the timing of the plan is terrible, as it adds to the instability
and daily stress that students are already experiencing during the pandemic.
And she’s concerned about the short- and long-term impacts on the neighbourhood
if a 435-student school for out-of- catchment students is built to replace the
There would first be a lengthy
construction period, then the noise and traffic of hundreds of additional
students coming and going from the now-quiet school site at 4275 Crown, she
The potential for a 435-student school at
the site is discussed in a 2018 Ministry of Education document assessing
options for the location of a new elementary school on the west side of
Vancouver for the Conseil Scolaire Francophone (CSF), the francophone board
that serves students whose first language is French. (By contrast, French
immersion students are served by the Vancouver School Board.)
There’s been pressure to find a new school
site for the francophone students ever since a 2016 court ruling that
facilities for them are inadequate on the west side of Vancouver. QEA has been
looked at before; in 2019, Vancouver School Board trustees rejected a similar
proposal to dispose of it to the francophone board.
Before that, QEA was also threatened with
closure in 2016 and in 2008.
This time around, parents don’t have long
to fight for their school. They were told about the proposal on Jan. 14. On
Jan. 17, seven of nine trustees voted at a special meeting to move the
closure recommendation to the VSB facilities planning committee meeting on
Wednesday, Jan. 19. If trustees agree to proceed at each stage, delegations
will be heard Jan. 24, and there will be another meeting on Jan. 31, leading to
a final decision on May 30 of this year. If the plan is approved, the school would
close on June 30, 2023.
Regarding the francophone board’s need for
a school site, Ho said the VSB is being pushed to solve a Ministry of Education
problem on the backs of Vancouver students. Disposing of QEA has also been
regarded as a way of raising money. In 2019, then-education minister Rob
Fleming said the closure of QEA would allow him to build a long-awaited school
in Olympic Village.
The current staff report recommending
consideration of closure says disposal of the annex to the CSF “could realize
substantial capital revenue” that the board could use for seismic upgrades or
school expansions. It notes the government expects districts will contribute up
to 50 percent of the cost of new schools.
Ho says the pandemic raises many issues
about the planned closure, especially for a school that has had zero COVID
cases to date. Transmission risks are lower at smaller community schools like
QEA compared to bigger ones like Queen Elizabeth Elementary and Ecole Jules
Quesnel, the proposed alternatives for QEA students. This pandemic is not over, she notes. Vaccinations are still being
distributed for children under 12, and children’s activities are still being
cancelled or restructured.
Ho says the closure proposal also raises questions about the kind of longer-term planning the VSB is doing if it gives up a school site that may well be needed in the future. She notes that many major developments are planned for the west side of the city, with the Jericho lands development alone more than doubling the population of West Point Grey.
District Parent Advisory Council co-chair Vik Khanna says the QEA move is being driven by the need for a new school at the Olympic Village. Originally it was supposed to be fully funded by pandemic recovery funds, he says, but that appears to have changed, and the school board now must come up with 50 percent of the cost. “Pressure is being applied by the Ministry to dispose of QEA.”
Khanna echoes Ho’s concerns about the
timing of the closure proposal, saying a pandemic is not the time to be pushing
it through. “Our trustees should be ensuring public trust in our public
education system and this is super rushed and erodes trust.”
The Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council has previously taken a position against school closures until proper planning is done. At a DPAC general meeting on Oct. 28, 2021, more than 33 Vancouver PACs voted 94 percent in favour of a motion that the VSB should hold off on irreversible facilities decisions until December 2023 or until policies and plans can be based on the latest population data and take into account the many new developments planned for the city.