What’s on the minds of New Westminster parents?
Parents of students in School District 40 have a lot of ideas about education and schools in the city, if a recent slew of correspondence to the school board is any indication.
Among the highlights of issues on parents’ minds this month:
Safety and police liaison officers at NWSS
At the final board meeting before Christmas break, trustees heard about plans to install more surveillance cameras at New Westminster Secondary School in response to a series of dangerous incidents at the high school.
Two parents wrote to the board suggesting the district consider reinstating the school police liaison officer program that was discontinued in 2021 after a lengthy review process.
“My son is in Grade 10, and I will be most likely pulling him out of the public system next year because he does not feel safe at school,” wrote Bonnie Palmer. “Since the removal of the SLO program there have been fights, gangs of kids from Cariboo Hill harassing and threatening NW kids on the school grounds. There is vaping in the bathrooms, selling of vaping products in the bathrooms, BB guns and pepper spray on school grounds. There has been arson committed at the school, and the list goes on.”
Another writer noted a recent incident at the Royal City Centre Walmart, where she saw two teenage boys running through the store with eyes covered, screaming that they had been pepper sprayed.
“I understand NWSS is having a few problems, and now this. Maybe having a police liaison office at the school would help (alleviate) some of the problems you are having,” wrote Leslie Abe.
COVID protections in schools
Mark Bice wrote to the board in December voicing “deep concerns” for the lack of COVID protections in schools, given the backdrop of continuing high levels of deaths and hospitalizations in 2022 and the added impact of pediatric flu cases and ICU admissions.
He said there are many more things we could be doing to protect children, including:
- reinstating masking in schools;
- installing HEPA filters in classrooms;
- implementing booster vaccine requirements for teachers and staff;
- ensuring stronger public communication on COVID safety protocols and encouraging parents to get their children boosted, given the “abysmal” vaccination rates; and
- ensuring transparent reporting of COVID absences and outbreaks.
“Not doing this makes it impossible for parents to do personal risk assessments. It is our right to know when classrooms are having COVID outbreaks, and we shouldn’t have to rely on citizens statisticians to figure out how bad things are,” he wrote.
Accessibility and hybrid board meetings
At its Jan. 31 meeting, the New Westminster school board voted in favour of a plan to implement hybrid board and operations committee meetings — with trustees meeting in-person and members of the public able to participate remotely — starting this April, at the latest.
Leading up to that vote, the board heard from numerous parents who said allowing virtual participation helps keep meetings accessible to parents.
“I personally feel like this system works better, especially for working parents or those without caregivers,” wrote Sarina Prasad.
Grace Steyn, a Qayqayt parent, told the board she wouldn’t be able to attend if meetings were held only in-person.
“I also feel that in-person meetings are a real barrier for engagement and participation for families with young children, single-parent households, parents who work evenings or are at after-school activities with their kids … and also any families with immune-compromised loved ones,” Steyn wrote.
Susan Kenny said hybrid meetings have benefits for many parents, including single parents, those with mobility challenges, those with sick kids at home, and those who work shifts or longer hours.
“Keeping a two-way hybrid model sends a message of cooperation and inclusiveness to parents. Limiting the meetings to in-person only also sends a clear message; that parent participation is not really invited or welcome,” she wrote.
The parents’ concerns found a sympathetic audience among trustees, who unanimously agreed to a plan to invest in new audio technology to make hybrid meetings possible.
You can find full correspondence in the agenda package for the Jan. 31 New Westminster school board meeting.
📢 Are you a parent of a New Westminster student? What issues are on your mind? Email us to let us know.