Daycares at two French-language schools in Vancouver have been given notice and may have to close to make room for classroom space, disappointing parents who hoped a court decision last year would resolve long-standing overcrowding concerns.
"We feel this is a potentially devastating loss of essential services in Vancouver at a time when the city is growing and becoming more international," parents said in a Feb. 21 e-mail to several provincial and federal politicians, including federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, whose Vancouver Granville riding is home to École Rose-des-Vents, one of the affected schools.
"Because of the last-minute nature of the service's eviction from Rose-des-vents … we [fear] the permanent loss of these services and long-term degradation of Vancouver as a city welcoming multilingual/multicultural immigration," the e-mail said.
Parents say the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF) – the school board for French-language schools in B.C. – told parents in January that daycare operators in two schools have been given six months' notice.
The programs run at Rose-des-vents, on the city's west side, and at École Anne-Hébert, on the east side of the city, and have spaces for more than 40 children.
Barring last-minute resolutions, those programs will not be available next September, when a new school year begins.
"We got into this based on the understanding that we had a long-term solution starting from three years old," said Olivier Baenninger, whose two daughters go to Rose-des-vents. One goes to daycare and the other goes to preschool and is scheduled to start kindergarten next year.
He and his wife have looked – so far, without success – for a new daycare for their youngest daughter.
Licensed daycares in the Lower Mainland often have lengthy waiting lists. The Liberal government's new budget, released on Tuesday, includes a commitment to create 13,000 new licensed child-care spaces by 2020.
That commitment likely won't help parents affected by the loss of programs at Rose-des-vents and Anne-Hébert.
The two schools were already bursting at the seams. Then, in November, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the British Columbia Teachers' Federation in a long-running dispute with the provincial government. That court ruling restored contract provisions related to class size and composition.
Details are still being worked out, but the court decision has already resulted in school districts posting jobs for hundreds of teachers and shifting classes to ensure they are not too big.
"We had to come up with space in all of our schools – and those schools were already bursting at the seams," CSF president Marie-France Lapierre said on Thursday.
The CSF still hopes to find a solution that would keep the daycares open but had to give operators six-months' notice, as required in contracts, in case that didn't happen, she added.
The daycare worries add another layer to a long-running battle over French-language education in British Columbia, where parents have long complained of a lack of space and resources for francophone education – which is conducted entirely in French and is therefore distinct from French-immersion programs.
Minority-language education rights in Canada are protected under Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In 2010, the CSF – along with several parents and the Fédération des parents francophones de Colombie-Britannique – launched a court action alleging those rights were not being respected, citing overcrowded schools that were not equivalent to facilities for English-language students.
Last year, the CSF won a partial victory when B.C. Supreme Court of Justice Loryl Russell ordered a new funding model for francophone schools.
The CSF has appealed parts of the Supreme Court of B.C. decision, and the province has filed a cross appeal.