Overcrowding at Terry Fox Elementary reaches boiling point
Overcrowding of students attending at least one of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board’s schools in Laval is reaching the boiling point. Hundreds of parents turned up for the SWLSB’s monthly public meeting last Wednesday at commission headquarters in Rosemère to complain about the situation.
They voiced their anger over a board plan that could force Terry Fox Elementary School pupils to be relocated once again because of a crying lack of room at the school, which is located in a part of Laval where residential construction is fuelling a tremendous population boom.
“That territory is in continuous growth with all kinds of residential construction,” board commissioner Steve Bletas, who represents the areas of Auteuil and Ste-Rose, told the Laval News before the meeting. “But we can’t continue to house the kids in that building, so we have to reduce those numbers somehow.”
While admitting that “nobody wants to be rezoned or redistributed,” Bletas said the board’s plan is to offer more options and scenarios to the parents at Terry Fox Elementary School and to take it from there.
While Terry Fox Elementary was built in the early 1990s when there was relatively little development in Auteuil/Vimont compared to today, the school, which was designed for a maximum of 540 students, now has a student population of more than 600.
With no immediate hope that the provincial government will provide funding for a new school, the SWLSB’s plan to ease pressure at Terry Fox is to “rezone” certain nearby streets and transfer more than 100 students to St. Paul Elementary School in Duvernay nine or so kilometres away.
This would not be the first time Terry Fox Elementary is subjected to a rezoning. According to an SWLSB information sheet circulated during the meeting, the school has been overcrowded “for many years and the enrolment keeps rising.” It was last rezoned two years ago when 39 students from Terry Fox were sent to Twin Oaks Elementary in Ste-Rose.
“This rezoning option is discrimination as they are picking and choosing who will stay or go,” Nadia Zingaro, a parent from Terry Fox Elementary said in an e-mail to the Laval News. According to Zingaro, some families living less than one kilometre from Terry Fox Elementary could end up sending their children on a one-hour bus ride if they are transferred to another school.
With all the new construction and the growing Anglophone community in the area, she added, a logical long term solution would be a new school in the community – “a community we consciously chose when we all purchased or built our homes.”
MNA seeking new school
Although SWLSB director-general Robert Vallerand made it clear during the meeting that building a new school is not an immediate option (most funding for such large projects comes from Quebec), Mary Anne Di Genova, a Terry Fox Elementary parent, said in an interview that newly-elected Liberal MNA for Vimont Jean Rousselle “has been working with us and has been very positive” about being able to clear the way towards the construction of a new school.
However, an SWLSB FAQ sheet on the situation states that a request for a new school building “can be considered only when the school board demonstrates that the combined enrollment in schools within a 20 km radius exceeds by 125 students the overall building’s capacities. In the current consultation this criterion has not been reached.” The document states that there is still room for five homerooms at St. Paul Elementary.
“A new school is a long-term solution,” said Di Genova, who grilled the commissioners with a series of questions, including the lack of school space. “We know we’re not going to get it tomorrow. But if we do the rezoning today, and with all this new residential construction, what’s going to happen in two years? Will our children be rezoned again?”
The private option
The crowding situation is one thing, but perhaps only the tip of the iceberg for some parents who are fed up with the declining quality of education available at public schools. As one frustrated parent pointed out to the commissioners, she could send her child to a private school. She said she regretted not signing her child up for entrance examinations at a well-known private school in Montreal. She regretted enrolling him at an SWLSB school.