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Parents plead for future of New West school daycares

Finding a downtown location for displaced child-care centres is a priority for the school district, the superintendent says.
Parent Laura Kwong speaks to trustees during the New Westminster school board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25.

Finding a downtown location for two child-care centres that are facing displacement from New Westminster schools is a priority for the school district.

School District 40 superintendent Karim Hachlaf made that pledge to parents at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, after trustees heard from parents upset about a plan to move two infant-toddler daycare centres out of downtown-area schools.

Purpose Society currently runs the two centres at École Qayqayt Elementary School and Fraser River Middle School, providing spaces for 72 children.

The future of the two centres has come into doubt as the School District 40 board grapples with a space crunch at its schools, particularly those in the city’s fast-growing core. To try to free up more classroom space, the district has suggested it could move the two daycares to two different sites and convert the daycare space into classrooms instead.

One of the ideas floated by the district was a proposal to move the daycares to its two largest school sites: Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School in the West End and F.W. Howay Elementary School in Massey Victory Heights.

But that idea isn’t sitting well with parents, who say the move out of the downtown core would make the daycares inaccessible for families.

“The child-care being provided by the Purpose Society is not a privilege or nice to have. Seventy-two families use these spaces because they need child care to participate in the work force,” Laura Kwong told trustees.

Kwong said current waitlists for daycare spaces in the downtown core range from 18 months to four years — or to just plain no space at all. She said that, if the board opts to move the daycares without sufficient time for parents to find alternatives, some parents could be forced out of the workforce — or families might have to leave the community altogether.

James Plett said his family chose the Qayqayt daycare for his daughter because they liked the fact that it would be her daycare and then her elementary school.

He said he understands the board’s need for more space for classrooms but called the idea of moving the child-care centres “shortsighted.”

“I feel for the elementary kids who should be going to a local school, but this is just pitting parents against parents,” he said.

School District 40 in 'crisis situation' for classroom space

Secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham said the district’s schools are already running at 110 per cent capacity, and enrolment is continuing to grow. Now, she noted, it needs to find ways to house students for the next five years, before it’s able get a new, 600-student elementary school funded and built at the Fraser River Middle School site.

“There is no magic solution,” she said. “We are trying to do our very best with the capacity that we have.”

Board chair Gurveen Dhaliwal said the district is in a “crisis situation” with space.

But she assured parents the district is actively looking at possible downtown locations for the daycares.

Hachlaf told parents the district has heard their pleas to find a downtown location for the two child-care centres.

“The board, staff and families are united with that ideal goal. We will not right now at this point give up on that goal, so please hear that,” Hachlaf said. “That’s our commitment.”  

Hachlaf promised parents the district would be transparent about its plans for all aspects of its short-term capacity review — which includes not just the potential move of the child-care centres but also a review of programs of choice (French immersion, Montessori and Home Learners).

More information will be presented at the Nov. 8 operations committee meeting, including a workplan and timelines for consultation around the programs of choice.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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