Parents blast New West school board over choice to move downtown childcare spaces
It's green lit a motion that will see 72 spaces pushed out of Qayqayt Elementary and Fraser River Middle schools
Qayqayt Elementary school is located in the downtown core.
The New Westminster school board greenlit a move Tuesday evening to move daycare spaces out of Qayqayt Elementary School and Fraser River Middle School, despite a plea from parents against the change.
School district officials and school board trustees said the move is necessary to make space for high growth of enrolment in New West schools, with at least two dozen students living in the Qayqayt catchment area being sent to other schools due to overcrowding.
Currently, Purpose Society operates a combined 72 infant and toddler daycare spaces at the two schools, but the school district is moving them to create space for four rooms at Fraser River Middle and two at Qayqayt.
Unless new spaces can be found closer to or in the city's downtown core, the replacement daycare spots are slated to go to Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary in the West End and FW Howay Elementary just off of 10th Avenue.
Parents make themselves heard
School board’s operations committee first heard a motion to move the daycare spaces in its Nov. 8 meeting, the first since the October election.
And that move frustrated parents who already struggled to get their children into those daycare spaces amid a vexingly scant childcare landscape. James Plett told the New West Anchor before the decision was finalized that his family had gotten on the Qayqayt daycare waitlist when his partner was only two months pregnant.
The school board vote to finalize the decision to move those childcare spaces from those two schools was scheduled for this week’s regular board meeting, and parents showed up to express their frustrations.
But the talk centred less on the move itself and more on how elected officials communicated it before and after the election.
For parents whose children attend those daycares, the move represents a near-immediate shift in tone after an election during which now-elected trustee Dee Beattie—on behalf of herself, Gurveen Dhaliwal, and Maya Russell—promised a decision wouldn’t be made anytime soon.
“A provincial budget is not your fault, but your own false promises certainly are,” said Sarah Arboleda.
“Ultimately, none of us are just daycare parents. We’re future K-12 parents who now cannot trust you to keep your word.”
'Where's the engagement?'
Kathleen Carlsen, a New West Progressives candidate in the election, said parents were assured on Oct. 25, the last meeting of the previous school board, that no decision would be made.
Then only a couple of weeks later, on Nov. 8, the operations committee voted unanimously in favour of a motion to provide notice to the Purpose Society that the spaces would be needed.
“The notice that was provided to the Purpose Society families was sent Nov. 10 and stated ‘the decision will be finalized at the Nov. 22 board meeting,’ which really means the decision had already been made,” Carlsen said.
“So again, we ask: where’s the engagement with the families involved? Telling parents decisions have not been made when they already were does not instill any trust.”
The lack of consultation and a sense that the decision had already been made on the daycare spaces permeated throughout the parents’ comments, with Plett telling trustees he felt the lack of consultation on the issue went against the board’s purported values—and its policies on daycare.
“If you look at the board’s website, where it’s like ‘consultation,’ ‘transparency,’ ‘accountability,’ they’re plastered all throughout, but it’s painfully obvious to me and the other affected parents here that that’s just lip service,” Plett said.
He cited school board’s Policy 24, which states in its guiding principles that the board will, “on an ongoing basis, assess community need for child care programs on board property, through a process of engagement” with, among other groups, parents.
“This board feels free to do what they want how they want,” Plett said.
'A tighter timeline than I realized'
When discussing the motion to give Purpose Society notice of the change, trustees were sympathetic to the parents in attendance.
“Did we fulfill our promise in consultation? No, we did not. We need to go back internally and look at what happened there,” said Russell.
“I believed that we had time for consultation, and what I found after was that there was not, and it was a tighter timeline than I realized.”
Dhaliwal, the school board chair, said consultation “will always be a key part of the work that we do.”
“But the unfortunate reality of the tough decisions that we’ve had to make about spaces at Qayqayt and Fraser River Middle School is that we had no other choices that would allow us to prioritize the educational needs of K-12 learners,” Dhaliwal said.
“No amount of consultation could have changed that stark reality.”
Working to find replacement spaces
She added that the analysis that laid out how soon a decision needed to be made was only presented to school board for the first time on Nov. 8.
“We had to make a decision, and we had to prioritize the school-aged kids that we’re responsible for making a decision on behalf of,” she said.
And they noted that they are still working with the city and with Purpose Society to find space downtown to replace the spaces at Qayqayt and Fraser River Middle.
“I would just say you don’t actually know what’s happening behind the scenes. You don’t know the meetings that are being held, and the amount of work that’s being done on this,” Russell said.
“And I hope that you’ll see in what unfolds that we’re working hard.”
Dhaliwal said a working group is discussing some of the options for where the childcare spaces could go and said there would be more to share publicly at the Dec. 13 board meeting.
Editor's note: we've made changes to the piece to clarify that re-elected Trustee Dee Beattie made the promise regarding changes on behalf of herself, Trustee Maya Russell, and Trustee Gurveen Dhaliwal.