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R.C. Garnett parents upset with Langley School District plan

Christy MacLeod and her Grade 6 daughter Katrina both spoke out against the plan to move Grade 6 and 7 students at R.C. Garnett Demonstration Elementary to Lynn Fripps elementary.  - Miranda GATHERCOLE/Langley Times
Christy MacLeod and her Grade 6 daughter Katrina both spoke out against the plan to move Grade 6 and 7 students at R.C. Garnett Demonstration Elementary to Lynn Fripps elementary.
— image credit: Miranda GATHERCOLE/Langley Times

Noah Vrionis is legally blind and has cerebral palsy.

Faced with these and a number of other learning disabilities and psychological challenges, he represents everything that is wrong with the Langley Board of Education’s plan to bus the Grade 6 and 7 students of R.C. Garnett Elementary to another school, his mother, Tania Vrionis said.

Vrionis, the executive director of the Langley Memorial Hospital Foundation, said that Noah will be profoundly affected by the plan.

“I am here to tell you tonight that my son is your worst case scenario,” an emotional Vrionis told the Langley board of education, senior school district staff and hundreds of parents at a public hearing at R.C Garnett Demonstration Elementary on Wednesday evening (Feb. 8).

Vrionis is one of dozens of parents angered by the School District’s solution to end the ongoing issue of overcrowding at R.C. Garnett by busing the Grade 6 and 7 students to another school.

“We chose to live in a neighbourhood where transportation was not an issue,” Vrionis said.

“We’ve done the alternate transportation route before. We chose to live across the street from an elementary school that teaches to Grade 7. We did this for him. This was not supposed to happen.”

She told trustees staff: “It’s time to consider the impact that your decisions make on children with special needs. Those children, no matter how few in number, are effected the most. Consider them first, not last.”

According to the Langley School District, R.C. Garnett, which opened in 2006, has a top capacity of 350 students. There are currently 565 enrolled and many are housed in portable classrooms outside. The School District estimates enrolment to increase to 622 students in 2012, 685 in 2013 and 704 in 2014.

Their solution is to change R.C. Garnett to a Kindergarten to Grade 5 school and send Grade 6 and 7 students to the soon-to-be-completed Lynn Fripps Elementary for two years until a new middle school is built. This will allow room for the 85 registered Kindergarten students to attend the school this fall, and for an anticipated 96 more to enrol for September, 2013.

Lynn Fripps is located on 83 Avenue, just east of 208 Street, and will open in September. Plans for a middle school have yet to be approved, although the district has approval to build one in Willoughby.

Parents had an opportunity to voice their opinions on the proposal to school trustees and senior staff at the public hearing on Wednesday night.

Most were not happy.

“We are ... tired that our children are being made pawns in your political struggle. This has to stop and it has to stop now. This board must be accountable to us and to taxpayers of this Township, for we are the ones that pay for this board,” said Clint Lee, father of a Grade 5 student.

Lorraine Baldwin, co-president of the Parent Advisory Council at R. C. Garnett, says the issue has “shaken our community to its core.”

“This is not a two-year plan that works for us. Another two-year plan would be to home school everybody, but that wouldn’t work either.

“Keep our community together. Show our children that you value them just as much as the children you propose to move into the school. Listen to what our community says will work. We live and breathe it everyday. We know.”

Overcrowding is becoming a serious reality at all Willoughby slope schools, says Claire Guy, director of instruction for the Langley School District. Plans need to be put in place now to accommodate for future growth.

“The one thing you can count on about Willoughby slope is that change is constant,’” Guy said to parents during the meeting. “I know you are very, very aware of that. There truly is unprecedented growth in this area.”

Christy MacLeod, parent of a son in Grade 4 and a daughter in Grade 6, is upset that the time and money she has put into getting R.C. Garnett started will have to be done all over again at Lynn Fripps.

“We’ve opened a school as parents, we’ve fundraised for this school, we’ve put books in the library, we’ve built a playground. We have given so much money to the teachers because there wasn’t money for the school supplies. You are now asking me to do that all over again, I’m not here to do that. I’ve done it already,” she said.

Grade 4 students in particular will have to move schools the most out of any other group of students, MacLeod added. They will switch from R.C. Garnett Demonstration Elementary to Lynn Fripps Elementary to the new middle school and finally to R. E. Mountain Secondary.

MacLeod’s daughter also spoke to the board, asking them why she cannot finish her Grade 7 year at R.C. Garnett.

“How are you recognizing my worth by telling me that I cannot finish my elementary education in the school I have spent my entire school life in? Am I not worthy of being an R. C. Garnett graduate?” Katrina MacLeod asked.

“We are taught to trust the adults to make the right decisions, as they are doing what is best for us. How is this school board a role model for us if I can’t trust how you are deciding my educational future? Making me bus to another school to finish off my elementary education is just wrong. I started at R.C. Garnett and should be able to go to the school I have grown up attending. Continuing to enrol more kids at my school was a mistake you made. Why am I paying the price?

“We, the students, are the ones affected. Please let me finish my Grade 7 year at my school.”

School trustees who were at the meeting did not respond to the statements. They were present to share information about the plan and listen to the individual opinions of the members of the R. C. Garnett community.

“I don’t think I need to tell you that this is a very complex situation,” Guy said.

“Our role as the school district is to take all of the information we know, gather all of the data, listen to our parents and make the best educational decision we can for our children. And the children and the educational soundness of the plan have to be at the forefront of our thinking.

“One of the things that is important for you to understand is that the plan is a fluid plan and is evolved and it continues to evolve, and it is evolving because of the input we’ve have from the parent community. It is really important that we listen and that we hear your concerns, and of course to plan better we want to do that for you.”

R.C. Garnett principal Ute Goetzke says she is pleased to see a great turnout at the meeting.

“I think it shows the remarkable care, intellect and sense of community that people have and commitment to making something really work for their children. In the immediate this is what they know, and they trust it, and I think that was really obvious by the turnout of parents and of children.”

In the coming weeks, the school district will continue to process through response sheets from parents, the Parent Advisory Council, senior management and school trustees to create a final plan by the end of February. A meeting for all Willoughby slope schools will be held in the spring, as well as additional meetings for R.C. Garnett families.

No representatives from the Township of Langley were present at the meeting on Feb. 8.

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