Parents frustrated with what they call the slow pace of construction of new classrooms in the overcrowded Surrey school district staged a rally Saturday afternoon.
Surrey is B.C.’s largest school district, with some 72,000 students. It’s also home to 325 portables, 50 of which were added this year to accommodate a booming population.
The NDP government has pledged to build more schools and eliminate the use of portables, but admits doing so could take at least four years.
That’s a problem for Karen Tan, president and chair of the Surrey District Parents Advisory Council.
“We’ve just got announcements — so announcements and announcements but nothing really happens in our schools. No builds,” Tan told Jill Bennett on CKNW’s The Jill Bennett Show.
Tan said students in Surrey have been forced to learn in portables for more than two decades, and that even newly-built schools are using portables at the expense of playground space.
WATCH: The Surrey school district is dealing with a portable shortage
She said that has forced elementary schools to stagger playtimes in order to make space for everyone, while high schools have moved to a “double bell” system that staggers classes and extends the school day.
“Some students in the same grade do not see each other. Or the teachers do not have time to assist the students before and after school because they are still teaching,” she said.
Surrey is currently in the process of adding two new high schools.
One, located in Clayton Heights, is slated to open next year while a second in the Grandview Heights area is due to be completed in 2020.
In an email, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said eliminating the use of portables is a “top priority” for the government, and that this year’s increase in portables was needed because of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that required the provincial government to restore staffing levels to pre-2002 levels.
That ruling means smaller class sizes, and hence the need for more classrooms in total.
January 2017: Surrey in desperate need of more schools
The province has established an office to manage capital projects in the city, and is currently reviewing the school district’s five-year capital plan for ways to speed up project approvals, the ministry said.
That’s not good enough for Tan, who said the only thing parents want to hear is the sound of shovels hitting the ground.
“It takes about four to five years for a new school build, and that’s barring no obstacles along the way,” she said.