Queen Elizabeth Annex (QEA) is fighting for better funding of public schools, creating complete neighbourhoods with schools for everyone in Vancouver, and transparency in decision-making across all levels of government. QEA is the first of 21 schools identified for closure and land disposal by the Vancouver School Board (VSB). Just as Vancouver is on the precipice of building an unprecedented amount of family housing across the whole city (via the Vancouver Plan, Jericho Plan, Broadway Plan, etc.).
What can I do ahead of the VSB Trustee’s June 6th vote on QEA’s closure?
- Write to Trustees: Tell the Trustees what you think, why this decision is important, and what you want them to consider when they vote on June 6th
- Ask your friends and family to write to Trustees, MLAs: This decision currently wrests with the VSB Trustees, but the reasons behind this decision are a lack of adequate funding for public schools by the provincial government.
How did we get here?
- In 2016, a vote to close 12 schools, including QEA is stopped.
- In 2018, the Conseil Scolaire Francophone (CSF) takes legal action against the Ministry of Education to deliver a CSF school site “West of Main”.
- In 2018, Partnerships BC creates an “options analysis” report that evaluates only two sites for a CSF school: Southlands and QEA. CSF requires a site of 2.4 ha and 100% bus access. QEA is a site of 1.5 ha with no access to any major roads for more than 1 km. Report recommends QEA for a CSF school site.
- In 2019, VSB staff puts forward recommendation to close QEA, due to CSF site need. Trustees vote not to close QEA.
- At the same time, Olympic Village has been waiting for a school to be funded for 10+ years. In 2020, NDP MLA Brenda Bailey makes an election promise to fund the school, and despite sitting on the Treasury Board, fails to fund the school.
- CSF draws VSB into their legal proceedings against the Ministry of Education for a site.
- In Oct 2021, QEA PAC brings a motion to not close any schools until a transparent long-term plan for schools is made, that’s based on where kids live (Canada Census 2021) and where kids will live (2050 plans underway) — 94% of PACs vote in support of motion.
- In January 2022, VSB staff recommends closure of QEA for same reasons as in 2019.
- By spring 2022, census results and draft 2050 plans are released: many more elementary school-aged kids have moved and will continue to move to Vancouver and UBC, targeted to “complete neighbourhoods” that include schools.
- In April 2022, via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, a redacted copy of the VSB’s Land Asset Strategy outlines at least 21 schools that have been identified for closure in the next 10 years.
- On June 6th 2022, VSB Trustees vote on closure of QEA.
Learn about school closures in Vancouver’s School District 39
QEA PAC does not support any school closures or land sales without transparent 30-year planning first. This position is shared by DPAC Exec and Vancouver PACs — who voted 94% in favour of a PAC-lead motion on this in October 2021.
From a Housing Crisis to a School Crisis
Local authorities, First Nations, provincial and federal governments have been working hard to help solve the housing crisis, and it’s working!
- Vancouver Plan – 260,000 more people moving to Vancouver by 2050
- Cambie Corridor – 50,000+ more people moving to Cambie corridor by 2040
- Broadway Plan – 50,000-60,000 more people moving to Broadway corridor between Clark and Vine by 2050
- Jericho Lands – 15,000-18,000 more people moving to Point Grey by 2050
- UBC Plan – 15,000 more people moving the UBC by 2040
- Sen̓áḵw – 10,000 more people moving to Kitsilano by 2027
- And thousands of units under construction right now
The provincial government’s Minister responsible for Housing puts enormous pressure on local authorities to deliver housing, but the Minister of Education is not funding more schools in Vancouver. And Vancouver’s existing school infrastructure is aging and unsafe.
Enter school crisis — where families can’t get into a local school, and are forced to home school, enrol in private school or commute long distances from home. The school crisis is already well underway in Vancouver’s downtown and Olympic Village, but also between MacDonald and Main Street and at UBC. In 2022 there were 12 schools with a kindergarten lottery in Vancouver. And the Minister of Education is not funding more schools in Vancouver, despite the election promises of her fellow party members.
Complete Neighbourhoods Need Schools
Every level of planning seems to agree that creating complete neighbourhoods / communities is fundamental to tackle the climate emergency, improve health and wellbeing, and resilience in cities. Metro Vancouver’s Metro 2050 Regional Growth Strategy, City of Vancouver’ Draft Vancouver Plan, UBC’s Land Use Plan and more all plan for complete neighbourhoods — where daily needs such as shops, restaurants, flexible work spaces, internet, community services, housing, transit, schools, and parks are within walking distance for all homes.
But while people plan for complete neighbourhoods with schools and families continue to move into these neighbourhoods, VSB is proposing to close 20-40 schools and the Minister of Education isn’t funding new ones.
- How can Vancouver attract families without a school located nearby?
- How can the public school system attract families without safe schools?
There is a myth that kids are leaving Vancouver, and that Vancouver’s West Side specifically is emptying. But Canada Census 2021 and 2016 tell the same story: more and more kids are moving to Vancouver, and especially to UBC on Vancouver’s West Side. In fact, according to the VSB’s Appendix H of the Long Range Facilities Plan, in 2019 VSB’s West Side schools were full: 97% utilization.
QEA, which has an operating capacity of maximum of 86 students (due to Jules Quesnel not being able to take any more cohorts of QEA students when they reach Grade 4), currently has 71 students (83% utilization) despite discouraging closure considerations announced in 2016, 2019 and 2022.
What’s going on?
QEA parents learned on Friday January 14th 2022 that VSB staff are again recommending a closure consideration. We have families at QEA who are facing closure for the third time here — in just 5 years. QEA is just the first target: there are 20+ schools in Vancouver that have been identified by the VSB Land Asset Strategy for closure, and another 20 “unsupported” for seismic upgrade that could be closed using the same basis.
QEA is just the first target for school closures by the Vancouver School Board (VSB). VSB has put in place several policies over the last few years which could result in 40+ schools being closed. These policies include sizing all elementary schools to 300-550 students, cancelling special programs, and reducing French Immersion cohorts. One good indication of what’s to come is that there are over 40 schools that are unsupported for seismic upgrade.
Parents have been rallying since May 2021 for VSB staff to create a transparent 30-year plan based on where kids live now and where kids will live in the future, before closing any schools or selling public land. The VSB’s current Long Range Facilities Plan only plans to 2029 — that means a decision to close a school forever is based on 2016 census data that only looks 7 years into the future from now.
This year the 2021 census data is being released, Vancouver is finalizing its 30-year plan, the region is finalizing its 30-year plan, and UBC is starting its 30-year plan. This is the time to create a plan for the 30-year future based on these new data sets, before making decisions about which school sites are needed and which are not.
We are asking:
- Why now? Board said in 2019 not again, why not focus on pandemic safety for kids and teachers now when we need it most?
- What due diligence are trustees requiring from staff to demonstrate that VSB doesn’t need QEA’s site for the next 30+ years?
- Why is VSB only planning for 7 years, when City of Vancouver, UBC and Metro Vancouver are planning to 2050? And the data to plan for 30-years is coming online this year?
- Why displace kids at QEA when other empty sites are available? CSF’s site at Heather Lands is expected to be approved this spring, why rush into a decision about QEA now?
- Which sites were evaluated and what criteria used to assess sites for a CSF school? Why haven’t parents been involved? Why isn’t displacement of children the highest weighted criteria?
- Why are un-safe seats being proposed for the relocation of QEA students? Why is a school that can’t fit QEA being proposed?
- Why are choices — different school sizes and age ranges, special programs, French Immersion — being reduced in the Vancouver public school system? Are trustees concerned that Vancouver is moving towards a two-tiered system where only families who can afford private schools have choices?
- Why does VSB need to sell QEA to fund a school in Olympic Village when the BC NDP already promised in 2020 that their government was ready and able to build it?
On October 28th, 2021 at the DPAC General meeting, 33 Vancouver PACs voted 94% in support of our PAC-lead motion calling for transparent planning by the Vancouver School Board.
Why wait for transparent, data-based, equitable decision-making?
Several key planning tools are about to come on line in 2022 which will give VSB a rare opportunity: a clear indication of where children live now (Census 2021) and where children are going to live (upcoming major plans, including the Vancouver Plan, Jericho Lands and Broadway Corridor). It’s just good planning practice to wait for this impactful information before making any irreversible decisions, such as school closures.
This is not a motion against all school closures, land sales, or seismic upgrades. This is a motion in support of transparency and data-based, equitable decision-making. Let’s take this time to recover from COVID-19 impacts and plan our future transparently.
What’s at stake? The future of public education
We imagine a not-so-distant future where Vancouver public education is thriving…a future where families of all incomes can live in every neighbourhood of the city. Where existing family-supportive infrastructure like schools, community centres, libraries and parks is surrounded by family housing. Upcoming developments like Senakw, Oakridge and Heather Lands, and plans such as Vancouver Plan, Jericho Lands, Broadway Plan and False Creek South are built out, tens of thousands of single homes are being built into duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and laneway homes.
Existing and new schools can be found in every neighbourhood and offer a diversity of sizes, programs and age ranges. Access to schools and programs is an equitable choice for all students. Private school enrollment declines as public schools provide more choices in safe facilities that can be conveniently accessed in every neighbourhood by bike or walking. Kids walk to school with their neighbours and have access to after school care on site.
Contrast this with VSB’s current vision: declining enrollment in public schools despite continued increase in the population of Vancouver.
Where does VSB’s vision lead? A two-tiered system, where public schools are large one-size-fits-all facilities with few educational options, pushing families who can afford it into a private school system that provides choices they used to have in the public system.
Working together, not pitting against each other
QEA faced school closure considerations in 2019, 2016 and 2010. And while there is currently no announcement about school closure considerations, there are 8 schools mentioned in the 2021 Long Range Facilities Plan that could be impacted in the future by “consolidation”, “relocation” or “merger”, and 40 schools that are “unsupported” for seismic upgrade. Rather than scrambling one school at a time — or worse, having schools pitted against each other — our hope is to pull together and collectively ask the VSB to do its homework first before making irreversible decisions that impact children and families.
In May and June we held several presentations to DPAC, parents and PACs to spread the word and modify the motion to benefit as many schools and students as possible. In June, QEA presented the proposed motion to the Trustee’s Committee of the Whole — with 6 other delegations from schools across Vancouver supporting us!
We’ve spoken directly with around 18 schools, who have differing views on school closures, land sales, and seismic upgrade priorities, but what we have consistently heard from everyone is that if an irreversible decision is going to be made, it must be based on up-to-date and transparent numbers. Schools also don’t want to be pitted against each other any more, and want decisions to be based on transparent planning practices instead.
The danger of irreversible decisions without transparent long-term planning
To illustrate the importance of using the most up-to-date data and planning before making irreversible decisions, we looked into the status of 12 schools which were under closure consideration in 2010. Looking at school capacity utilization by catchment in 2019, we can see that just 9 years after being on the chopping block, 6 of these 12 schools were located in high utilization areas (80-140% capacity utilization).
How can I support transparent long range planning?
Write a letter – send a letter to Trustees and to your MLA indicating your personal or your group’s support (such as a PAC) for the motion, and ask friends / family from other schools across Vancouver to also send a letter in support.