By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor
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 70-student QEA.
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 says.
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.
What you can do:
For more information, visit http://www.qea-pac.ca/advocacy/ or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please help save QEA by writing letters to the Deputy Superintendent office (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) and trustees (listed below).
- Chair Janet Fraser: email@example.com
- Vice-Chair Estrellita Gonzalez: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fraser Ballantyne: email@example.com
- Lois Chan-Pedley: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Carmen Cho: email@example.com
- Oliver C. Hanson: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Barb Parrott: email@example.com
- Jennifer Reddy: Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Allan Wong: email@example.com