Vancouver school defenders raise ante
Like many East Side parents these days, Tracy Johnson is worried about the future of her kids’ school. She’s a single mom of aboriginal descent with four daughters and one son attending Sir William Macdonald elementary at 1950 East Hastings Street. It’s on a shortlist of five schools that could be closed next June by the Vancouver board of education.
Standing outside Premier Gordon Campbell’s constituency office on November 8, Johnson told reporters that her life has been settled for six months after she moved into a low-income housing unit. She revealed that her children have attended five different schools where they encountered difficulties because of learning disabilities, but they’re finally succeeding at Macdonald.
“I’m going to fight for my children’s rights until we get the funding we need for our kids’ school,” Johnson declared. “This school is a huge part of our lives right now.”
She said Macdonald elementary not only helps her kids with meal programs and after-school care, it also assists her by encouraging her to be a good parent. Johnson also emphasized that she didn’t want to see the closure of four other schools on the shortlist: Sir Guy Carleton, Champlain Heights Annex, Queen Alexandra, and McBride Annex.
“All I could think of is how much pain it has caused everyone else because I know it has caused me a lot of pain,” she said.
Johnson is part of a new education-advocacy group called APPLE B.C., which is an acronym for the Alliance of Parents and Partners to Lobby for Education in B.C. She and three other members—parent and urban aboriginal advocate Scott Clark, retired school principal Noel Herron, and community-centre worker Ron Suzuki—stood outside the premier’s constituency office to announce a planned protest on behalf of public education at this location (3615 West 4th Avenue) at noon on Friday (November 12).
“We have two principal concerns,” Clark told reporters. “One is no more school closures. We’ve already had 191 closed since Campbell came into office. And two, we want to see the restoration of funding—of a fair funding formula—for all of our schools in urban and rural British Columbia.”
Clark said that provincial funding shortfalls have had “a profound impact on children with special needs, particularly urban aboriginal children, and, of course, all impoverished children”.
“We know where the B.C. Liberals stand,” he stated, before turning his attention to the Opposition. “The NDP has been absolutely silent on their position in regards to the most challenged children in British Columbia.”
The Straight asked Clark how he would rate NDP Leader Carole James’s record when it came to issues affecting urban aboriginal kids. (James is of aboriginal heritage.)
“Ms. James has, in my mind, been absolutely silent on the devastating impacts throughout all the ministries of the provincial government on urban aboriginal children,” he responded. “It’s time that Ms. James stand up and tell us what their position is as it relates to education services for aboriginal children—and all children in this province. Stop playing games. Our children need hope right now and sadly, the NDP is not standing up, giving children, all our children, hope throughout British Columbia. And that is a shame.”
Scott Clark calls on the B.C. Liberals and the federal government to focus on urban aboriginal affairs.
At the end of the event, Clark claimed that the federal government won’t recognize that it has a fiduciary responsibility to the 80 percent of aboriginal people who do not live on reserves. He added as federal funds are transferred to the province and then on to other levels of government, such as municipalities and school board, there continues to be a lack of official recognition of the rights of urban aboriginal people.
“If we don’t do anything, we are going to have a ticking time bomb on our hands,” Clark warned. “We see many issues surface in Winnipeg, in Edmonton, in Calgary because governments refused to address things in a holistic, comprehensive manner and uphold their fiduciary responsibility to all aboriginal people, regardless of residency.”