Chilliwack’s problem with crowded public schools has now trickled down to the preschool level.
Five daycares and preschools are being asked to leave their school sites by the end of June, to free up spaces required for new classroom divisions. The schools affected are East Chilliwack elementary, Watson elementary (daycare and a Montessori preschool), Cultus Lake elementary and Evans elementary.
Programs there are currently operating either in classrooms or portables, some of them for several years.
Ever-growing enrolment in Chilliwack is one issue that’s created overcrowding at local schools. However, the schools across B.C. will have to comply with a Supreme Court of Canada order to restore classroom size and composition back to 2002 levels.
In Chilliwack and other rapidly-growing cities, that means fewer students per classroom at a time when more students are funneling through the doors.
Anette Boulet, owner of the Sardis Montessori Preschool at Watson says the news came as a shock, in an email she received at 10 p.m. on May 10 from the school district.
“The amount of heartache, stress and financial hardship this is creating is beyond words that could be expressed,” she says. “We are devastated.”
This week, she and head director Amanda Raymond were informing parents that the future of the preschool is uncertain. Raymond, known to her students lovingly as Miss Amanda, has been teachingat the Global Montessori program for the past 12 years. She says while they expected the day may come they would have to leave, they are shocked by the short notice given.
“The short notice is going to cause many families, students and staff hardship. It truly is unfortunate,” she says. “I wish all childcare providers the best during this very difficult time.”
A similar story is playing out in Abbotsford, where four operations have been given notice. Country Meadows at Auguston Traditional elementary, Little Dreamers at Harry Sayers Elementary, Fraser Valley Montessori at Margaret Stenersen Elementary, and Fraser Valley Montessori at Sandy Hill Elementary have all received similar notices.
Renting out spaces to childcare and daycare business are normally a good fit, for students, community planning, and for extra revenue for school districts.
Raymond says young children benefit immensely from having their preschool attached to their future kindergarten entry point.
“The benefits of having preschool attached to an elementary school was priceless,” she says. “Children become comfortable with their surrounding, layout of the school, [and] going to kindergarten the following year is not as intimidating, not to mention the convenience of the green space and multiple child drop off for parents.”
The majority of families that use the preschool at Watson live in the immediate area. Boulet says she is “desperately” looking for a space they can use in September. It’s possible these businesses will be able to return to their current schools in September 2018, if the school district’s plan to reconfigure grades comes into effect then. That plan seeks to move Grade 6 classes out of elementary and into middle schools, while moving Grade 9 students up to secondary school.
But in the meantime, it means hundreds of local families are unsure where their preschoolers will be at the end of the summer.
The move could also create potential havoc for families accessing daycare spaces. If the daycare centres cannot find suitable alternative space, many families will be looking for alternatives.
Not every school-sited daycare is affected. McCammon elementary’s childcare provider, Kathy Antonio of A is for Apple, says there was enough other free space within the school to allow them to stay. However, she says she has already applied for capital funding through the Ministry of Children and Families to purchase a building. If successful, she hopes to eventually rent out additional spaces to other childcare and preschool providers, “in order to offset some of the lost classrooms due to the school restructuring.”
In September, kindergarten classes will be limited to 20 students, Grades 1 to 3 will be limited to 22, and Grades 4 to 6 remain capped at 30. In Grades 7 to 12, industrial education shops, home economics and food labs will drop from 30 to 24, and Grades 10-12 science courses drop from 30 to 28 students.
Composition language has been restored that would further limit class sizes, stating “class size limits shall be two (2) less than the number stated for each low incidence student included in a regular class for 50 per cent or more of the instructional day.” The restored language also decreases the ratio of students to teachers, teacher librarians, counsellors, and EAs, although Chilliwack School District in some cases is already fulfilling the requirements.