The Vancouver School Board has voted to permanently close a school on the city’s west side, citing demographic pressures and a need to reallocate resources, though parents have criticized the decision-making process for a lack of transparency and accurate data.
Queen Elizabeth Annex, a small French-immersion school located in the city’s Dunbar area, will close on June 30, 2023, the board ruled Monday evening.
“School closures are difficult conversations and the decision to close the school was not made easily,” school board chair Janet Fraser said in a statement.
The district says current QEA students will be guaranteed placement in the French immersion program at either Jules Quesnel Elementary School or Queen Elizabeth Elementary.
“Recognizing there may be many questions from the impacted school communities, District staff will immediately begin to work with impacted students, families and staff to support a successful transition ahead of the move in September, 2023.”
Earlier this year, staff at the VSB had recommended the board consider the closure of QEA by next summer. This was the fourth time since 2008 that the school, which currently offers early French Immersion to 71 students in kindergarten to Grade 3, was facing closure.
The staff provided several reasons, saying the closure can potentially generate significant capital revenue and resolve a continuing legal matter. The district is currently involved in a mediation and a civil claim with the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, the public francophone school board, about the QEA site.
However, many parents at QEA are frustrated and disappointed about the closure.
“I think it’s a very sad decision, but it’s also a very, very troubling one because it really speaks to a deep crisis within the Vancouver school board,” said Michael Hooper, who volunteers with the QEA parent advisory council.
He said it’s been a “confidential” process, saying much information at the heart of the closure was never revealed or discussed to families or the community.
Mr. Hooper, who is also a professor of planning at University of British Columbia, said this is “the worst public engagement and the most weakly justified planning decision” he’s ever encountered.
In January, the board approved proceeding with a public-engagement process, which occurred from February to April. The VSB said more than 1,000 participants completed an online survey, attended a community dialogue session and/or submitted direct e-mail feedback to the board.
In a letter from the chair of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) to VSB trustees Monday morning, Gord Lau said although the QEA closure engagement provided considerable information, the board’s engagement findings report “highlighted a lack of trust and concerns about long‐term planning from participants.”
“We believe that a significant contributor to the lack of trust in this closure process is forecasting that not only covers a relatively short time span but also flies in the face of what parents see. To be proper stewards of public education, trustees must not only ask themselves if these forecasts make sense but should also consider whether ten‐year forecasts should inform a closure discussion,” the letter reads.
The district had said that it has seen approximately an 8.4-per-cent decline in enrolment, representing approximately 4,400 fewer students over the past decade, and current forecasts indicate further enrolment decline in the years ahead.
According to VSB data, schools on the west site such as Bayview and University Hill will lose 35 and 102 students by 2031.
Vik Khanna, vice-chair of Vancouver DPAC, said these two schools are unlikely to see such a decline in their enrolments, as Bayview is a safe, modern school, and University Hill is located in UBC, a neighbourhood that has many families and school-aged children.
“Why would the VSB forecast a huge decline at University Hill? That makes no sense at all. So we think that there’s a problem with the VSB algorithms. And we pointed that out to trustees, and we are disappointed that the trustees did not really dive into this data,” Mr. Khanna said.
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