A single mother in Mary Lake is putting a face to the struggle of getting children into schools within their catchment area.
Marta Rogers, a mother to five children, ranging in age from 10 weeks to 10 years old, told the News that her three school-aged children have been on a waitlist at Golden Horn Elementary School since May.
One child, Rogers’ eight-year-old son, Emmett Sands, is being home schooled because the family’s top choices, Golden Horn and Christ the King Elementary School, didn’t have space, Rogers said. Takhini Elementary School was offered, but she turned it down because it didn’t suit Emmett’s needs.
The other two children — Emmanuel Rogers, four, and Gracie Sands, 10 — are now at Christ the King, in Riverdale, and must take a school bus for roughly two hours to get there, round trip, Rogers said.
This tacks on about 15 extra kilometres each way from the family’s house.
“I’m a fairly flexible person,” Rogers said. “I’m a fairly open person, creative person that can come up with other options, but, at this point in my life, I now have five children, so I’m looking for what’s simpler, so we can spend time together as a family.”
In a written statement, Jason Mackey, a spokesperson with the Yukon Department of Education, said Takhini Elementary and Elijah Smith Elementary have room for students.
He said that Golden Horn is at capacity for all grades except Grade 1. The school, he continued, currently has five students on its wait list. Twenty students on its waitlist have been accommodated, Mackey noted.
“The school currently has five students on its wait list that are being accommodated at other schools and want to still be considered for enrolment for this school year,” he said. “Another six students were on the wait list for this school year that are being accommodated at other schools, but indicated they do not want to be considered for enrolment at Golden Horn Elementary until next school year.”
A month into the school year, Rogers said the principal from Golden Horn informed her that space in a kindergarten class was available for Emmanuel. But it was too late. She had already made other arrangements at Christ the King, where her son had been on another waitlist.
In the interim, Emmanuel was at Elijah Smith Elementary School for a couple of weeks.
The reason why Rogers settled on Christ the King, she said, is because her daughter, Gracie, was also admitted.
“I wanted them at the same school,” she said.
All three children remain on Golden Horn’s waitlist, Rogers said.
The school has 240 students.
“There’s definitely overcrowding, but at some level we have to work with the space we have, the buildings we have,” Rogers said. “I don’t know why it’s OK to send a little kindergartener all the way into town.”
In a written statement, Mackey denied schools are overcrowded.
“In our view, schools are not overcrowded because we have classroom sizes set by the Collective Agreement with YTA and we follow this agreement in determining the number of students at each grade level in a school,” he said.
Last week, during question period in the legislative assembly, Tracy-Anne McPhee, minister for the Department of Education, said that most schools in Whitehorse area are near or at capacity, spurring attempts to come up with solutions to accommodate more students.
The government is on the search for portables (four or five) to do that, but, as McPhee had said, none were available to purchase in western Canada.
She had said that no companies responded to a tender put out in August.
During a press scrum on Oct. 11, McPhee said the department is working “very hard on alternatives to have extra spaces at schools.
“We’ve looked at other schools. Could they be moved from places? (Are) there portable-type buildings that could be used that are currently owned by other departments? All of those avenues are currently being explored,” she said.
McPhee said she couldn’t provide a date for a new tender.
Scott Kent, House Leader for the Yukon Party, told the News on Oct. 10 that finding space at existing schools is “crucial.” Building additions could be another fix, he added.
Portables, Kent reiterated, are a stopgap measure, ones that could bode well as a short-term solution, noting that if there’s scant stock outside the territory, the government should commission local contractors to build them instead.
“The problem’s not going to go away and it’s not going to get any better. I think getting portables on-site is a good first step, but they need a longer-term plan out there for the growth that they’re seeing in that catchment area.
“I’m happy to work with the minister, with the government, to make sure that this situation gets solved for the next school year because the school (Golden Horn) is running out of space,” he said.
During question period on Oct. 11, McPhee reiterated that no companies responded to a tender, including local contractors.
The News provided a detailed picture of Rogers’ circumstance, along with a list of questions to cabinet communications, then the department itself on Oct. 10 and Oct. 11, respectively.
Mackey said he could not speak to specific cases.
“We work with schools and parents to accommodate students in the school for the attendance area in which they live. Sometimes schools or specific grades reach their capacity. In this case, we ensure students have options at another school,” he said.
“We also work to ensure that students have safe, effective transportation to and from school every day and that students spend as little time as possible travelling to and from school by bus.”
McPhee said there are no children who aren’t going to schools selected by their parents, even if that means home schooling.
“What I can tell you is several families have contacted us. We’ve worked with the department. They’ve had answers,” she said. “Our job is to focus on students and students’ needs.”
Contact Julien Gignac at firstname.lastname@example.org