A recent decision by the school board in the Central Okanagan has upset many parents, who say siblings will be separated between two different elementary schools.
“Our number one priority is keeping families together,” said Haley Gershony, a concerned parent of three. “Not separating siblings.”
The decision, which was made last week, involves the reopening of Bellevue Creek Elementary school in Kelowna’s Lower Mission area.
The school, which closed in 2002, is currently being leased by a daycare and church.
But with area schools over capacity, it will be transformed back into an elementary school starting this fall.
“All the elementary schools in … Mission are currently operating at 129 per cent,” said Chantelle Desrosiers, vice-chair of the board of education for the Central Okanagan.
“Opening Bellevue Creek can reduce the overcrowding, allow core spaces to be reclaimed and give greater access to amenities.”
While most parents agree that more student space is badly needed, many have expressed frustration with the way it’s being done.
“We were really surprised. We’re really confused, disappointed and pretty angry,” said Gershony.
That’s because families will now be separated between two different elementary schools: Ecole Dorothea Walker and the soon to open Ecole Bellevue Creek Elementary, 1.5 km away.
The reason siblings will be separated is because the board voted to make Bellevue Creek a kindergarten to Grade 2 school and Dorothea Walker a Grade 3 to Grade 6 school, both dual-track, meaning French immersion and English curriculums.
Gershony, who has been made a spokesperson for the concerned parents, said that option was the least preferred one among the vast majority of parents.
She added most parents preferred that the board made each school single-track, in other words, one would be solely French immersion, the other English.
“The preference would be to not disrupt as many families as possible and that would have been having made Bellevue an English school, taking the English population from DWE (Dorothea Walker Elementary) and put it in Bellevue and so that way, they could be a K-5 school,” Gershony said.
“There would have been way less disruption.”
Desrosiers said that wasn’t a feasible option as Bellevue Creek school is too small to accommodate students from kindergarten to Grade 5.
She said splitting the grades into two schools will allow more French immersion spaces to be created at each school, something that is highly in demand.
“We recognize that going into the future in order to provide those opportunities, dual-track was our preferred option,” Desrosiers said.
Gershony added that in addition to splitting up siblings, the decision is raising a lot of safety concerns among parents.
“There’s some real significant safety concerns about letting, you know a grade three out of school unattended because you have to be at Bellevue Creek Elementary to pick up your little one,” she said.
“These are little kids. These aren’t middle schoolers or high schoolers. These are elementary-aged children.”
Gershony said drop-off and pick-ups will become very challenging for parents having to navigate between two schools.
“Practicality. How can you be in two places at once?” Gershony asked. “It’s a big burden on parents.”
She also pointed out that traffic, which is already congested on Gordon Drive between the two schools, will get even worse.
She added that many families, who currently walk to school, will now have to drive because they’ll be attending two different schools.
She also said some families, who rely on before- and after-school care, will be impacted.
“These are often, you know, smaller businesses where they pick up the kids and vans and they take them to an after-school location and they watch them and take care of them,” Gershony said.
“How will they do that when siblings are separated at different schools…not all parents have two vehicles, not all parents have a vehicle. So a decision like this really disadvantages, you know, single mothers or people who don’t have access to that kind of transportation.”
In an effort to minimize initial student disruption, Bellevue Creek will begin with K-1 in 2022-23 and expand to K-2 in 2023-24.
“We do recognize we are impacting students and families that are in the system right now,” Desrosiers said. “But we also have to work towards providing opportunities and choice of programming for families in the future.”
She added that some of the logistical issues, such as pick-up and drop-off times, will be addressed once a new principal and staff are in place for Bellevue Creek Elementary.
“We really are asking parents to have some patience…so that a principle can be put in place, so that staff can present plans and options to families as to how they can coordinate these two schools and address some of these concerns,” she said.
But parents aren’t giving up. They will address the school board and plead their case once again at the Feb. 9 board meeting.
“We’ve been told, basically, that the chances are incredibly slim,” said Gershony.
“But what I’ve told my children is that when you see something happen that you don’t think is in the best interests of the people that it affects, you should stand up and do something, whether you think you will be successful or not.