Thousands petition to save East Vancouver schools from closure

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      Danica Hendry walks her son Ethan to school in East Vancouver. They live nearby, and it’s good exercise for them.

      Today (September 12) was quite different. Instead of dropping Ethan at Graham Bruce elementary before classes start, Hendry and her son waited for a school bus to arrive. They were going somewhere else.

      Mother and son joined other parents, students, and their supporters in delivering an urgent plea to the Vancouver school board.

      Carrying three boxes of signed petitions, they want the board to keep Graham Bruce and two other schools open in the community. These are Carleton elementary, and Gladstone secondary.

      A total of 11,664 signatures have been gathered so far to stop the closure of the three schools.

      The yellow bus made stops at Carleton and Gladstone, before making its way to the West Broadway offices of the school board.

      Graham Bruce, Carleton, and Gladstone are included in the list of 12 elementary and secondary schools being considered for closure due to lack of funding.

      The board will receive a preliminary report about these schools on Thursday (September 15).

      As they were waiting for the bus, Hendry related that the thought of sending Ethan to another school scares her. It means crossing busy streets where trucks travel.

      “I don’t know if I’d be comfortable about that,” Hendry told the Straight.

      Danica Hendry (back, left) and Melanie Cheng. Hendry’s son Ethan (left) goes to Graham Bruce elementary school with Cheng’s children Connor and Denzell.

      Melanie Cheng came with her sons Denzell and Connor. The two also attend Graham Bruce.

      Cheng recalled that she went to Graham Bruce as a kid. Her children are now the fourth generation to attend the local school.

      She also said that more than 1,000 condo units are currently being developed not far away, on Boundary Road and Kingsway. There will be more families and their children need a school.

      “The condos are here, and we’re shocked. We were surprised that our school just eight blocks away from those condos is on the closing list,” Cheng told reporters.

      Her son Denzell had one word about the prospect of losing the school: “Bad.”

      The three schools are in the Vancouver-Kingsway constituency of B.C. NDP MLA Adrian Dix.

      According to Dix, 1,600 students attended Graham Bruce, Carleton, and Gladstone last year.

      A plan approved by the school board in May this year provides for the closure of up to 21 schools by 2030.

      Shutting down schools is part of the measures being undertaken by the board to cut down the number of empty spaces.

      The provincial government wants the Vancouver school board to fill up 95 percent of its spaces as a condition for funding projects to make schools safe during earthquakes.

      “The 95 percent criteria doesn’t make sense,” Dix told the Straight at Graham Bruce before the school bus came. “Other school districts such as Calgary are looking at 85 percent because you need extra rooms in schools.”

      Graham Bruce, Carleton, and Gladstone elementary and secondary schools are in the Vancouver-Kingsway constituency of B.C. NDP MLA Adrian Dix.

      From Graham Bruce, the yellow bus proceeded to Carleton where other parents and students were waiting.

      A fire on August 19 damaged the school’s main brick building. For the current school year that started this month, Carleton students have to go to Cunningham, which is two kilometres west of Carleton.

      Understandably, Carleton parents like Myrna Ng are stressed. She has two elementary school kids.

      “We want this school back,” Ng told the Straight while the bus was driving to Gladstone to pick up more parents, students, and supporters.

      Myrna Ng (left) and Evelyn Torrefiel have kids who go to Carleton elementary school.

      Also on board the bus was Evelyn Torrefiel. Her child attends Carleton. She is not happy with the idea of losing schools in the community.

      “Where are they going to take these children when the schools are gone?” Torrefiel asked in an interview with the Straight.

      Also on board was Kelly Woods, director of community development with the Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House.

      According to Woods, the neighbourhood house has many volunteers from Gladstone, which is located nearby.

      “We would be devastated if the school was closed,” Woods told the Straight.

      Vancouver school board chair Mike Lombardi received the petitions.

      At the school board grounds, two of the three boxes containing the petitions were carried by Nancy Johnson, a parent at Carleton, and Judy Choi, a parent at Gladstone.

      Choi told media that the school district will lose a good robotics program ran out of Gladstone if the school is closed.

      Vancouver school board chair Mike Lombardi lauded the signature drive. According to him, the petitions support the board’s position calling for stable and adequate funding for education.

      Lombardi told the parents, students, and their supporters: “A lot of the challenges we face around closures of facilities are because the government has been chronically underfunding education for more than a dozen years.”

      Poster hoisted outside Carleton elementary school has a message for Premier Christy Clark.