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Parents in a southwest Winnipeg suburb are infuriated, after learning their children will likely have to switch schools for the second time in four years due to overcrowding at South Pointe School and the province’s rejection of requests for portable classrooms.
The catchment area for the dual-track K-8 school in South Pointe includes the neighbouring community of Richmond West, which doesn’t have a local school of its own, but that could soon change.
As trustees address capacity concerns, it is all but certain boundaries will be redrawn — forcing about 100 students to leave the school on Kirkbridge Drive.
"I put my son to bed last night with a broken heart, sobbing," said Grant Rutherford, a Richmond West resident whose two children, in grades 2 and 4, respectively, attend South Pointe. "We are being discriminated against in our subdivision. We’ve been told all these different schools are not their schools."
There are currently 950 students enrolled in the facility designed for 875, and it isn’t the first area school to deal with space issues.
The Rutherfords initially wanted to send their children to nearby École St. Avila, but they had to rearrange plans because the school was too packed. The oldest child started at Bonnycastle School, and was transferred to South Pointe mid-school year, when it opened in January 2017.
Rutherford penned a letter to local city councillors, MLAs, Pembina Trails School Division, and province to express his frustration that asking families to move their children again will affect child-care arrangements, parents’ abilities to work, and the students, who will have to leave friends, teachers and support system.
"We absolutely understand the parents' frustration. We are in between a rock and a hard place. This was not our preference. Our preference was portables," said Pembina Trails superintendent Ted Fransen, hours before he planned to attend a South Pointe parent advisory council meeting Wednesday night to address concerns.
Trustees were briefed on the overcrowding problem during a meeting Feb. 13 — the same day Fransen announced the province had again rejected a request for portables to deal with growing enrolment.
Instead of approving trailer-classrooms, the province has asked divisions, including Pembina Trails and Louis Riel, to fill all open seats in other schools.
"We absolutely understand the parents' frustration. We are in between a rock and a hard place. This was not our preference. Our preference was portables." – Ted Fransen, Pembina Trails superintendent
In response, senior administrators at Pembina Trails have recommended trustees end South Pointe's grandfathering system for French immersion students from Richmond West and Fairfield Park in the summer. (Shortly after South Pointe opened, the school's catchment area was condensed as a result of space concerns.)
The board is expected to approve the latest motion at a meeting March 11, meaning families such as the Rutherfords and Smiths will have to move their children to either École St. Avila (K-6) or École Viscount Alexander (5-8).
"Not only are my children being separated from teachers they’ve built relationships with, their friend group, but they’re also being separated from each other," said Jim Smith, a Richmond West father of two. "Meanwhile, we’ve never moved."
Smith said he wished the division had consulted parents to come up with a less disruptive solution; the board decided there wasn’t time.
The decision impacts the smallest number of students, the superintendent said, adding enrolment at South Pointe School is expected to reach almost 1,000 next year, and continue to grow in the following years.
"This plan will realign the French immersion catchment for all students who live in Richmond West," Fransen wrote in a letter to parents dated Feb. 28, one day after the motion was introduced to trustees.
Meanwhile, Rutherford is calling for the division to alter the grades offered at the school or cut off acceptance of new students next year, rather than move his children and their Richmond West classmates. Either the division needs to take action, he said, or the province should provide portables.
"Not only are my children being separated from teachers they’ve built relationships with, their friend group, but they’re also being separated from each other. Meanwhile, we’ve never moved." – Jim Smith, a Richmond West father of two
A provincial spokesperson said in a statement the policy of asking divisions to use available spaces prior to portable approval is long-standing. They also noted Pembina Trails' previous decision to allow a grandfathering system for French immersion students outside the catchment.
The Public Schools Finance Board works with divisions to determine whether all seats are being maximized, the provincial official said, adding it was determined there are more than 250 available spaces at schools near South Pointe.
Another K-8 school in Waverley West will be built "in the very near future," the spokesperson added.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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