Punjabi-speaking elementary students will soon be replaced by French-speaking pupils at a Vancouver public-school site.
That looks like the inevitable outcome of the school board’s decision to use the South Hill Education Centre site on Prince Albert Street to temporarily house students from up to 50 schools that will undergo seismic upgrading between now and 2020.
French immersion learners from the public elementary school L’Ecole Bilingue will arrive first, meaning the 200 preschool to Grade 7 students of Vancouver’s only Khalsa school—the Vancouver campus of the Khalsa School of B.C.—will have to leave.
The privately run school, which leases the space from the school district, has been told it needs to move out by July 2013. It’s causing grief for parents like Harjit Bhatti, whose son is in Grade 1.
“How cruel can they be to take the school out from the children!” an exasperated-sounding Bhatti told the Straight in a phone interview.
The Khalsa school offers the same curriculum as public schools, plus Punjabi language and Sikh religion classes.
Bhatti says he sends his son to the Khalsa school because he wants him to learn Punjabi. “At the house, my kid only speaks English with me,” he said. “I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I speak three different languages, but I want my kid to have the same thing.”
In a January 31 letter to school board chair Patti Bacchus, Bhatti and other parents proposed that the Khalsa school be allowed to lease a portion of J. W. Sexsmith elementary school. However, that option doesn’t seem to be open.
“We have talked to them about that but they’d rather leave the [Sexsmith elementary] school empty,” Bhatti said. “They just want to kill the Khalsa.”
The school is operated by the Satnam Education Society of B.C. Its president, Ripudaman Singh Malik, was acquitted of conspiracy to commit murder in the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182, which killed all 329 people on board, and an explosion at Narita airport that killed two baggage handlers.
Bacchus claimed that the board is sympathetic to challenges faced by the Khalsa school. But she stressed that the district needs the South Hill site to “cycle” students when their schools are seismically upgraded.
“It’s an issue of getting our schools seismically safe,” Bacchus told the Straight by phone. “As you know, we have thousands of students in unsafe schools that we need to move this forward.”
A modern building for Sexsmith elementary school is under construction at the school site on Ontario Street. Students will vacate the two older buildings there. “Given the extra loading of the site, traffic, and the field space, it was deemed that it would not be a compatible use to have another elementary school, any school with school-age kids, operating at the site at the same time,” Bacchus explained.
Bhatti and others have sought help from education minister Don McRae, Mayor Gregor Robertson, and NDP MLA Mable Elmore, whose Vancouver-Kensington constituency includes the South Hill site. Barring an unforeseen reversal after the Straight’s February 6 deadline, Bhatti and others planned to rally outside the school board office on West Broadway on Friday (February 8) at 11 a.m.