Nanaimo parents Jennifer Smith, Kelsey Thomas and Michelle Fairbanks are concerned a district policy on out-of-catchment students could put them in the position of having to either pull their children from Departure Bay Eco School to keep siblings together, or separate siblings in two different schools. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/News Bulletin

Nanaimo students getting sqeezed out?

Eco school full, out-of-catchment younger siblings might not get in

A handful of Nanaimo parents with children already in Departure Bay Eco School are unsure if siblings will get in, after a warning the school district may not be able to accommodate academy and out-of-catchment applications as it has in the past.

Several parents, all of whom live out-of-catchment, claim they were told siblings would have a spot in the program when they enrolled their eldest children at the ecologically focused school in 2016. Now they hear the policy has changed.

It could place some parents in the position of deciding if their kids should attend separate schools, or pulling one child to keep siblings together.

According to Dale Burgos, school district executive director of communications, typically younger siblings would be able to get into a school no problem and have first priority but in the last few years the district has warned parents the guidelines will be followed if a school enters into an increased enrolment situation and many schools are in that position now. The last time he checked, Departure Bay Eco School was full to out-of-catchment kids.

Its population has increased from 218 to 280 between the 2015-16 and 2017-18 school years.

Parent Kelsey Thomas has a son in Grade 2 and her middle child is ready for kindergarten but she said she’s received a letter that he’s been wait-listed. She wants the district to give what was promised.

“You can’t go back on everybody that applied to that school prior to 2017 and was told something different,” said Thomas.

She plans to wait to see if her other son gets into kindergarten at the school but if he doesn’t, said she has to make the “horrendous decision” of whether she pulls her seven-year-old from a school he knows and loves. She might also have her kids go to two different schools.

Jennifer Smith, also a parent of an out-of-catchment child in the eco-school, said she never would have have enrolled her son in 2016 if she knew the deal would change in 2017 for her daughter.

“Why would I have put my son in one school knowing that I’m going to have potentially my daughter in another school or I would never, ever want to pull my son out of a school that I’ve already got him set up and settled in…?” asked Smith.

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Brandy Sacerty wasn’t told her child would be grandfathered in, but she assumed it would happen. She had been in catchment at Departure Bay Eco School for seven years with sons now going into Grade 7 and 4. She moved last year to the Frank Ney catchment, and has learned her daughter has to apply as out-of-catchment and that she might not hear if she’s enrolled there until September.

In a letter Sacerty wrote to the school district, she said she understands numbers are high in Nanaimo and the district is trying to handle decisions about siblings attending the school with fairness, but “that should include grandfathering in siblings.”

“How is it fair to make parents split their children up between different schools or uproot their older children from the friends and the school they have spent their entire elementary history at by putting them into a new school?” she wrote.

Burgos said school districts are in unchartered territory with increasing enrolment numbers and a court ruling on class size and composition.

“I understand these parents are going through some interesting times trying to figure out what they want to do, if they are going to keep all of their kids in one school or not. In the end there was always this chance,” he said. “When you choose an out-of-catchment school there’s always a chance that you may not be able to return or that the youngest siblings might not be able to get in.”

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