The Halifax region’s soaring population growth is leading to overcrowding in the city’s classrooms.
Since 2015, Halifax has welcomed more than 20,000 new people and counting, according to the 2019 Halifax Index. 2018 saw a two per cent increase in the population — the largest increase in recent years — after receiving 8,544 newcomers with 65 per cent of those being international immigrants.
While the added growth has come with challenges for schools throughout the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE), the Education Minister Zach Churchill views the increasing population as a positive thing.
“We’re responding to that growth with major capital announcements. So, we’ve announced new schools that are going to be built in Halifax and of course other parts of the province and long-term we believe we’re going to meet the capital needs of each and everyone of those students.”
Plans are in the works to build new schools over the next several years, but in the meantime, classrooms over capacity are an ongoing issue for some schools in the HRCE, especially Park West School in Clayton Park West, says parent Laura Ankcorn.
“It’s frustrating, our classes are large. We’re seeing again that Park West School has 13 classes over hard cap, last year we had nine.”
Since 2017, HRCE has published Class Cap Reports that outline which schools have classes within the provincial hard cap range and which are over.
This year, more than 90 per cent of the classes within HRCE fall within the cap guidelines. Capacity and exceptional circumstances are the factors behind any classes that exceed the hard cap.
“The hard cap is never gone over without the decision being made locally by the principal in consultation with the teacher at the school and the School Advisory Council,” Churchill said.
While there are 31 schools within the HRCE that have classes over the hard cap, some are experiencing that reality at a much higher rate than others.
Sixty per cent of Bedford South School, Duc d’Anville and Park West have Primary to Grade 2 classes that are over the hard cap.
“We know our kids don’t get the same level of attention, the same level of teaching as they do in other schools. They keep adding more portables and that doesn’t seem to ease the problem at all,” Ankcorn said.
Churchill says the province continues to invest in education supports. This year, he says 365 new inclusion and support workers have been hired to meet the complex needs of students and teachers.
He also says classes exceed the hard cap by a few students.
“The number of students over the cap is usually between one and four students and we think that’s appropriate,” he said.
Class caps are in place by the end of September but, according to the HRCE, enrolment can fluctuate throughout the year, leading to a rise or fall in classroom sizes.
Ankcorn feels action must be taken sooner, rather than later to help classes experiencing ongoing issues with capacity like those at Park West.