Lining up for Kindergarten a ‘new reality’ for Willoughby

R.C. Garnett PAC co-president Lorraine Baldwin understands what parents who lined up overnight Sunday to secure their children’s space in the school’s Kindergarten are going through. She’s done it twice herself. - Langley Times file photo
R.C. Garnett PAC co-president Lorraine Baldwin understands what parents who lined up overnight Sunday to secure their children’s space in the school’s Kindergarten are going through. She’s done it twice herself.
— image credit: Langley Times file photo

Winter camping was likely the last thing on the minds of Langley residents Sunday, with the cold and snowy weather keeping many inside by cozy fires with hot drinks in hand.

Some locals were not so lucky, however.

At R.C. Garnett Elementary School, the lineup of parents hoping to get their children into Kindergarten at the school in September started at about 1 p.m. Sunday.

By Monday morning, the lineup had reached about 30. Parents who camped overnight stayed warm with camp fires, cooking stoves, propane heaters, blankets and sleeping bags.

“I was surprised to see the glow of the fire in the night. It was a bit of a surreal scene,” said neighbourhood resident Jeff Courtney, who saw people lined up overnight at the school as he came back from a late night hockey game.

While Courtney’s children already attend the popular Willoughby-area elementary school, he feels for those who are simply trying to enrol their children in the school closest to their home.

Because Willoughby is a fast-growing area heavily populated with young families, and because priority is given to children with siblings already in the school, some parents say they were scrambling to find out whether they should camp out in the cold for a potential Kindergarten space.

Parents reported being told there are 66 total Kindergarten spaces at R.C. Garnett, and that 40 of those spaces are already reserved for children with siblings at the school.

“No one was aware of that fact. We got the information in a panic,” said parent Tamara Syms, who wants her daughter to attend the school closest to her home: R.C. Garnett.

“We got (to the school) around 2:30-3 p.m. and saw the lineup. In the half-hour time span it took us to come back, another three or four people had lined up.”

Syms’ husband was seventh in line and “sat there all night,” aside from the three hours she spelled him off.

She said parents having to camp out overnight for registration in the winter leaves parents “stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

R.C. Garnett principal Ute Goetzke and school district communications manager Sandy Wakeling said the actual number of available spaces at the school won’t be released until February, when the district takes a look at registration numbers at all of its schools and makes all related decisions.

Goetzke, who arrived at 6 a.m. to let parents inside for warmth and hot coffee, said everyone was polite and friendly after a night in the cold.

“There was a lineup, yes, but it wasn’t as big as it has been in other years,” she said.

“(The lineup) was gone by 8 a.m. We’re not sure how many (Kindergarten) spots we’ll have yet, but our population is very dense and we have a lot of young families.”

R.C. Garnett Parent Advisory Council co-president Lorraine Baldwin knows what those parents are going through, since she had to line up — twice — to get her two children into the school.

“I think (lineups) for the school is the new reality for this area. It’s a tiny catchment but overcrowded,” Baldwin said.

Even though Lynn Fripps Elementary School is being built in the nearby Yorkson neighbourhood, Baldwin said that won’t help at R.C. Garnett, where the catchment is already capped and closed.

“It’s horrible that parents have to line up to get their kids into the school closest to their home,” she said.

“Communication and collaboration needs to happen between the district and the Township,” Baldwin said, noting one previous development plan that  came to a public hearing — for eight six-storey buildings in the area — said the children who lived in the development could attend R.C. Garnett Elementary.

“It was clear (the Township) had no idea the school is capped and closed.

“Where is the communication? Lynn Fripps will be full soon, too. Then what?”

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